Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Read Stuff in English in Paris

I wrote another article about Paris. This one took a lot more legwork and skype calls across the Atlantic. It's about English language bookstores in Paris. You can find it here. Or click the link below.

http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/09-12/a-guide-to-english-language-bookstores-in-paris.html

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hot Journalism Job!

Love this job description for the A.V. Club D.C. Opens like this:
Are you desperately clinging to a career in journalism while the newspaper industry goes up in flames? Want to work for a fast-paced news organization staffed by gruff copy editors—relics of a bygone era—who constantly bitch about the slow death of print media while simultaneously contributing to it? Tired of trying to make a living as a freelance writer, and finally coming to the realization that an extra part-time job or three is the only way you're going to make rent this month? If so, The A.V. Club is for you!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Getting Back on My Feet

If you asked me how my job hunt was going, I would say not very well. I spend hours on cover letters, delete them, and rewrite them again. I ask everyone and anyone I know or meet if they've heard of any openings. I work my network to try to get ins at jobs I'm applying for. And on and on. Thus far, none of it has done me any good.

I checked out the unemployment rate and was both encouraged and discouraged to see that Illinois has one of the higher percentiles in the nation. Encouraged because it's not just me. Discouraged because I still don't have a job.

So a couple of days ago, I decided to do something. There's nothing I can do about this. I am convinced that I am doing everything in my power to land a job and can't possibly do any more. But since it causes me so much stress, worry and hopelessness, I thought I should throw myself into doing something more positive.

So I started training for a half marathon. At this point, I am not sure I am even going to physically make it to the race. The registration and travel will cost money I don't necessarily have. But that isn't really the point right now. The point is more doing something that makes me feel good about myself. This is about working towards a goal I know without a doubt I can accomplish with dedication and work. And I really need to think less about job hunting for a few minutes a day. Now I can think about how much I really don't want to go running, which is what happens when you have to do it every single day.

And so, I bring to you yet another photo of running shoes. Guess which ones have run a marathon on top of a couple hundred miles and which ones have run three.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Betsy Learns About Bikes

The minute CTA anounced a fare hike, I decided right then and there I would ride my bike through winter. Pay $6 a day to ride the train? No. Pay nothing to get some good excerise? Yes.

Although CTA has now announced they won't increase fares, I'm already commited — to something I am not prepared to do. I really don't know how to take care of my bike. I don't know how to change a flat. I don't even know how to grease my chain. Winter in Chicago means dirty snow and slush, potholes, salt, and whole bunch of other things that can hurt and rust and do other mean things to bikes.

So last night I took advantage of West Town Bike's Women's Night. As long as you're a girl, you're free to come work on your bike under the helpful eye of female mechanics. Dudes tend to dominate the world of bikes, so this was an opportunity for me to learn a thing or two in a low-pressure environment.

As I predicted, I was not a fast learner. I couldn't even get my wheel off at first. But with some good old-fashioned elbow grease and some patient guidance from the mechanics, I successfully removed both tires, took them apart, and put everything back together. Two and a half hours later, I was coated with a thin layer of bike grease, my thumbs felt like putty, (27-inch tires are TIGHT) and I had broken a nail. It was a good night.

Unfortunately, I must have tightened my brake pads or one of my wheels too tight, because I then rode home against some sort of resistance, which kept worsening by the block. Those five miles were tough. But hey, I made it. And now, I know which tool to take to my bike to fix the problem. Thanks, West Town Bikes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Yep, That's How It Goes

A message from a friend I haven't talked to in a few months:
What are you up to? Do you have a job in journalism? A friend of mine has a masters from Medill and just got an internship at Huffpost and my sister graduated from NYU in journalism and is working at JCrew. So good luck, it must be tough.

When I Get a Job…

I am creating a list of things I shall do once I am employed. And I WILL become employed… some day. So I better make a list of what how to spend all this money once I have it.

- Make my first donation to This American Life
- Buy a bottle of wine that is more than $8. And some nice jeans. And some other material possessions.
- Move into a sweet one-bedroom apartment with my cat
- Register for yoga classes. And maybe a triathlon, too
- Create a Zipcar account
- Open a high-yield savings account
- Take my mom to dinner and a show

I can't wait. It's gonna be great.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Betsy Gets Another Byline

Months and months ago, I asked Rolph Potts for some tips about breaking into travel writing. He suggested that I pitch a story about something in Paris I knew better than anyone else. Something in which I was an "expert."

As an American who had only spent a year in Paris, I felt like I had nothing to unique to write about. Could there possible be some aspect of Paris I knew better than my Parisian friends? Well, I was the only person I knew who spent hours upon hours upon more hours running in Paris. A pitch was born.

I emailed an editor at a travel website with my idea. He bought it — not for much, but he bought it nonetheless. And so, Running in Paris: A Guide to Scenic Trails and Special Advice for the City was born.

(Grandma and Grandpa: Click on THIS to read it.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Grave Chicago Sin

You say Chicago, I say hot dog. Chicago. Hot. Dog. A real one looks like this (notice the lack of ketchup):

Yesterday I had two above-par hot dogs from America's Dog. This was first Chicago hot dog experience since before I left for France over a year ago. Needless to say, I was excited.

There was a problem though: too much dog. I was foolish to think I could eat two of these things. I made it through about a third of the second one when I went to grab a knife and fork so I could pick through the tasiest bits.

Wait, did you catch that? Because it took me about three minutes to realize what I was doing, get really embarrassed, and look around to see if anyone noticed. I was eating a Chicago hot dog with a KNIFE AND FORK.

I obviously looked like a tourist. I'm blaming France. France taught me to eat everything with cutlery, (French) fries included. I definitely did not look like someone who is, um, from Chicago. Where hot dogs are made to be eaten with your hands.

What I did wasn't just a mistake. It was a sin. I am so ashamed, and the best I can do it promise it will never happen again.

Monday, October 26, 2009

To whom it may concern,

The above phrase is dominating my life right now. I apologize to all my loyal blog readers - all fourish of them - for Reve Rouge's MIA-ness lately. Instead of writing blog posts, I have been writing cover letters. I feel like I have written a gazillion of them.

My life is consumed by working or trying to find work right now. I take every snippit of freelancing I can get. And when I am not doing that, I am job hunting in every way I know how: stalking online job boards, writing those cover letters, reformatting my resume, sending handwritten thank you cards, calling my friend's mom's friend's friend who said he might be looking for someone, rewriting cover letters because the first drafts were horrible, donning my lucky green interview shirt every once in awhile, following up, etc. etc. etc. etc. There is so much etc. I can never do enough. There is always more work to be done in my search to find work. If I don't do everything I can to get offered job X, someone else will. And that person will get it. I don't want that to happen.

So right now, I have seven events on my Google calendar this week that are labeled "job shiznit." And it's only Monday. I need to write two cover letters and research a company where I am being interviewed tomorrow. I have to go. Sorry blog and its readers. Maybe I will get a job soon and subsequently have more time to write.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

From the Job Hunting Trenches

The other day I went to a group interview for a job I desperately did not want. I don't know why I went. I don't even know why I applied.

Okay, that's a lie. I do know why. It was a job to work with children. I have fun with kids, and we usually hit it off pretty well. I have plenty of references who will speak highly of my experience and creativity. And since I'm jobless at the moment, a small part of my job hunt has me looking at jobs involving kids. Basically because I interact well with children, and because I think it's likely that I will be able to find something.

And that's what led me to this interview. I had to do some activities with other job candidates, almost all of them my age and female and overly peppy — in other words, the type of people who usually work with kids (and the type of people I tend not to get along with). The interview didn't go so well. I hated being there. I didn't even try to make them want to hire me.

I left feeling frustrated and dejected. What was I doing at this interview? I do not want to persue a career with children. I have a million other skills that fit my professional goals. I have the whole city at my fingertips in regards to finding a job that is a good fit for me. Why was I going through the motions of seeking a kid-centric job if I don't even want one?

This situation reminds me of a bartender back at a bar I frequented in Paris. I don't know his whole story, but I do know he is some sort of crazy genuis math wiz. But he's been bartending for six or seven years now. Even though he's good at math, and could probably make some good cash with those skills, I guess that doesn't make him happy.

So the moral of the story is just because you are good at something doesn't mean you have to work in that field. If I don't want a full-time kid job, well… then I shouldn't be looking for them. So I am going to stop. And if they call me back for this job, I will politely turn them down.

Monday, October 05, 2009

October 2 - 5

Have you ever been anticipating one single weekend for months? Maybe you'll be visiting a new city. Maybe you're planning a grand reunion with old friends. Maybe it's finally!!! time to run that race you have been working towards for the past 18 weeks. Or, maybe it's all of the above.

So the weekend comes. Naturally, your camera comes along with you. After all, this weekend has been in the making for months and months and everyone in your life knows it. You've got to have something to show for it when you get back.

You arrive. It is everything you hoped it would be and more. There is cooking. There is eating. There is sitting around the table reminiscing about this and that until who knows when. There is wine. You try to show of your France skillz by volunteering to open said wine, then embarrassedly realize several minutes later it's a twist-off bottle. Everyone laughs. Because you haven't changed. Even after what seems like ages, after your lives have veered in different directions since the last time you were together, everyone is still the same.

Then there's the big race. That 26.2 miles you have been thinking a lot about lately. You run it. It's hard. It's really much harder than any of these you've done before. Somewhere between miles 19 and 26, you wonder what you are trying to prove and who you are trying to prove it to. You think this is a very stupid thing you're doing. You think it would be nice to slow down your pace a notch or two or ten. But you know that would also a stupid thing, because that would be too easy. So you keep going and cross the finish line with your fastest time ever, and that makes it worth it.

Later, there is dinner with another old friend. More reminiscing. More laughing about the past, present, and future. And afterwards, beer. You have a Blue Moon, your first since returning to America. You leave the orange slice until the end, just like always. It tastes better that way.

Too soon, you are catching your $1* Megabus back to Chicago. You feel very sore and very content. And you realize you forgot to take pictures. No snapshots of the dinner making or of old friends or of sightseeing in the new city. No marathon-related photos. The problem is that you were having too much fun over the course of the weekend to feel obligated to document it. Your memories will have to suffice. And that is just fine. You don't mind one bit. You'll take living life over taking pictures of it any day.

*plus 50¢ reservation fee.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

I Get It. And I Like It.

On Tuesday, night, Jake and I went to the Chicago premiere of Where The Wild Things Are.

(See the trailer HERE. I'm not sure how to embed it without everything looking silly.)

It was great. The Music Box was packed head to toe with hipsters — good people watching. Dave Eggers brought Max Records, who plays Max, for a hysterical Q & A before the screening. Afterwards, Spike Jonez and Catherine Keener answered questions, too. I'm bad at reviewing movies, so you can read Jake's review on Chicagoist. But it was good. There was laughter. There were tears. And it didn't ruin the book. I liked it a lot.

We walked home afterwards, me in a fake gold crown they handed out at the door, and I felt so content. For once in a very, very long time, I didn't have to furrow my brow and try to understand any part of that experience.

I hated not understanding things in France. This isn't about language. That is only a teeny part of what I'm talking about. Just because you speak a language does not mean you understand the many cultural layers behind what's going on.

What was there to understand about Where The Wild Things Are? The whole audience grew up reading this book that was originally deemed inappropriate for children. We understood how the book make us feel as kids. We understood what a huge and delicate undertaking it was to translate this iconic piece of literature to the screen. We understood what it meant to have Dave Eggers and Spike Jonez on board for the project. We understood why Spike Jonez was so anti-CGI in creating the wild things. And when some moron asked if wild thing Ira was named after Ira Glass, we understood what an idiotic question that was.

The best part of understanding all these things was that I didn't have to think about them. I simply understood them. Just like that (picture me snapping my fingers). This, my friends, is something I missed dearly about America. It feels good to get it. It feels good to be back.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sad Panda at Starbucks

I am at Starbucks. I am upset with myself. I don't want to be at Starbucks. I want to be at a café that a. has its own personality b. has a legitimate cozy feel, not a fake cozy feel c. isn't a multi-gazillion dollar business.

But Starbucks is the only café with wifi within 3.5 miles of my parents' house. And I have work to do. So I am at Starbucks.

There was one thing I used to like at Starbucks. They used to write your order and name directly on your cup. This reminds me of a story a professor's sister told my Advanced Writing class in college. Her name is Regina. Confused Starbucks baristas mis-wrote, then mis-read her name. I'm not going to be able to tell the story as well as she did. It's her story. You'll have to ask her to tell it to you sometime.

But no more writing on cups. Now they print out a label and slap it on your cup. It's so much less personal.

Sorry this post is so gloomy. I feel so gloomy being here. Please don't tell anyone I am here. It can just be our little secret. I will hurry to get my work done, and then I will stealthily slip out. It will be like I never came to Starbucks in the first place.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Let's Buy Some Food

The true "Yup. I am definitely in America now" moment came during one of the most monotonous pinnacles of everyday life: the grocery market. Or, as we say in these parts "the store," or simply "Jewel." First off, mom and I roll into Jewel in our running clothes, ready to do a week's worth of shopping. I like that in America, you can where whatever the flip you want to buy your groceries. In France, this doesn't fly. You need to wear real clothes.

Okay, so we're in our running clothes. We enter Jewel. Jewel is huge. It would be safe to say five times the size of my regular grocery store in Paris. And since it is so huge you can buy MORE FOOD!!! I am excited about the hugeness of it all. I can buy anything and everything. I feel like I have the world at my fingertips. That is, until I decide I want some peaches.

The peaches are huge. Like way, way too huge. I don't remember peaches being this huge. The tomatoes are also huge. And so are the bananas. Every piece of produce is overwhelmingly huge. I don't like huge anymore. I can't eat a peach or tomato or banana that huge. Why aren't they normal sized? Wait, what is normal sized? Mom says she can get better peaches at the farmer's market. Peaches this huge? Yep, they are the same size. Dang.

Okay let's move on from the peaches. That's a dead topic.

Next I see a whole slew of 100 calorie pack snack packs. Come on America. I knew you had these, but I forgot. You do not need to pay Nabisco extra $$ to put 100 calories worth of mini Chips Ahoy in a little bag. Just don't be a dum dum and don't eat so many cookies.

And a bit farther down that aisle, I see about 600 new varieties of Oreos. Double Delight Chocolate Mint'N Creme? Gross, who is going to buy that? There is some nasty peanut butter creme variety as well. Even I, proud devourer of gallons of PB, would not buy that. Everyone knows the best kind of Oreo is the original kind. Why bother with anything else? Cuz we're in America, that's why.

I am not going to ramble on too much more about all this, just one more thing. The manager of the store bags our groceries. We chat through the whole bagging process, and it feels so strange. I can bag my own groceries just fine. But it would be very odd if I lent a hand. We just don't bag our own groceries here. Because we're in America.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Breakup Letter To My Bike

Dear Bike,

You probably noticed sometime last week I was acting strangely. You might have found it a bit odd when I took a screwdriver to your handlebars to remove the bell. Maybe you saw the girl who came last week and fiddled with your gears a bit. You probably tried to shrug it all off as just a phase.

It’s not. You have no idea how much it pains me to have to tell you this. You and I are finished. She bought you. I’m sorry.

You deserve honesty, so here it goes. I have a bike back home. I won’t hurt you further with details. But it is a bike I love very, very much. I sold you because I am going back to it.

Maybe you already figured there was someone else waiting for me. I never really brought it up, because we were having so much fun. Mentioning it would have just ruined our relationship. And really, the other bike never concerned you and me. Just because I’m going back to it doesn’t mean the moments we spent together in Paris weren’t meaningful.

Bike, I cannot image Paris without you. We saw everything in the city together. We got lost together. We found our way home together. We received a stern warning together when the police caught us riding the wrong way down a one-way street. When you were sick, I was so worried. I took you to the bike doctor not caring how much it would cost. Sometimes I thought someone had stolen you from me. Realizing that made my tummy really hurt. But it was just always me being silly and forgetting where I parked you. You know I can be silly. Thanks for putting up with me during those times — like when I broke too hard on wet pavement, and we both fell. Thanks for not letting me get hurt.

Things weren’t always easy for us. The upward incline on Rue de Belleville always tested us. But we always made it to the top together. And afterwards, after a few — or many — beers or glasses of wine, it was always so much fun to cruise downhill together to home. During those 60 seconds, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance and then the cobblestones that went BUMP BUMP BUMP, I was always the happiest I have ever been in my life.

There are so many other memories like that. Without you, bike, Paris would not be Paris. I can't even remember what Paris was like before you. You were the key to my happiness and to cheap transportation and to exercise.

Maybe someday I will come back to Paris and get a new bike. But no bike will ever be the same. I hope you will never forget me, because I will never forget you.

Love and Kisses,
Betsy

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Allô?

Today I had a ginourmous Eureaka moment. I can have telephone conversations in French. NO WAY.

Phone conversing in another langauge is hard. You can't see the other person, thus can't see his or her facial expressions or gestures. Oftentimes, my ears decide to be hard of hearing or I just mix up words*, so this complicates things futher for me.

I experienced a horrible horrible telephone catastrophe back in March. I was ordering a pizza. The pizzeria dude wanted me to order two pizzas, but I only wanted one. Later I discovered it was a 2-for-1 deal, but I didn't understand that at the time. After the awkward convo ended, I wasn't exactly sure how many pizzas I had just ordered. On my way to pick it/them up, I sniffled a little bit and shed a few tears. I was really embarrassed and upset, because I had been studying French forever and had all this trouble ordering a frickin pizza.

But I guess there's been a veeeerrry gradual improvement in the success of my telephone conversations. My 75% comprehension became 80%. And 80% became 85%. And so on.

And today, when I was talking to someone about getting my newish purse replaced because it developed a mysterious hole, I started to actually whine a bit. But it's not my fault! I whined. I swear the hole just came out of nowhere. NO it's not from a lighter, I don't even smoke! I didn't get my way. They won't give me a new purse. I was grumpy when I hung up. But a second later, I realized that this was progress. Before I couldn't order a pizza on the phone. Now I can grump someone out on the phone. Go me.

* I recently was very confused when my roommate and her boyfriend were telling me about this delicious chocolate mousse that comes in a glass jar (un pot en verre). I understood it was delicious chocolate mousse that comes in a green jar (un pot vert). Just trust me, my brain hurt really hard after this conversion. I make mistakes like this all the time.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Flea Market Comeback

My last non-Parisian adventure was to be a trip to Lille for one of Europe's largest flea markets. It didn't work out due to driver's license complications of my friend's cousin's boyfriend (I told you it was complicated). So I decided to dedicate my Sunday to do a bit of flea marketing here in Paris on my own. I've been once to Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, but we were filming a movie. So I didn't really look for stuff to buy.

So I leave my apartment this morning, ready for my adventure, and surprise surprise, there is a flea market right outside my front door. It's more like a neighborhood-wide garage sale. Here I accumulate:

- a multi-plug thinger. One exploded in the kitchen about a month ago, and we have been making do by juggling plugs and cords around. That works out okay except when I accidentally unplug the fridge and stove (while I am trying to use the stove), as I did last night.
- a retroish looking pair of sunglasses that are probably from H&M.
- a French-English picture dictionary. I especially like this purchase, because I bought it from a little girl. I don't even mind that it is in yucky British English, because now the little girl has €1.50 more to buy a pony or whatever.
- A neato scarf. I am planning on chopping off a ton of my hair on my return to the states, and I plan on accessorizing with scarves.

Then I go to the real flea market, which is a bit of a disappointment because here you can either buy only giant pieces of furniture or cool small things that are way too expensive. I was interested in a pair of opera glasses until I realized they were €150. Still, I manage to find:

- some pens. Those ones that have little windows with a little picture that floats up and down. I am OBSESSED with these pens and try to find one every time I visit a new place. When I saw a whole bunch at the flea market, I am pretty sure I started muttering excitedly to myself in French. I got three, and was very careful not to break my rule of only buying a pen if I have been to the place.
- a wine bottle opener. Nothing fancy, just one retired from some French restaurant. But I have been trying to learn how to open a bottle of wine without breaking the cork for months and months. I think I finally have the hang of it, so bought my own to celebrate.
- 10 really old Paris postcards.

In the end, not that much stuff, nothing particularly interesting and not that much money spent. But I either really wanted or needed or liked each thing, so I am content. Maybe I will go open a bottle of wine, or tie my hair in a scarf, or read a dictionary now.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Four Weeks To Go

Well folks, race day is coming up fast. I can't believe that I will be at the starting line for yet another marathon only four weeks from today. And on American soil nonetheless. Yikes.

How is training going? I will share this bit I entered in our training calendar post an 8-mile run on August 26: "hobble hobble hobble. Not as bad as yesterday, but felt hobbley." Here's one Kelly wrote recently: "Why do we do this to ourselves? Remind me."

August was really, really hard. We've ramped up our mileage a ton. I've pretty much gotten used to the non-stop throbbing of a calf or a hamstring or a knee or all of the above. A coworker the other day asked me why I was limping, and I was like what? huh? I'm not limping? Well, do your legs hurt? she asked me. I had to think about it. Yes, well I guess they do. They always do. I don't even notice it anymore, because I'm considering it normal.

Now I feel like I'm trying to make people pity me, but I'm not. The only one forcing me to run 40 miles a week is me. I do it because I know, or hope at least, that I'm doing enough to be 100% prepared for the upcoming race. Kelly and I both know that what really counts are the 18 hobbley and tired weeks we put in before toeing the starting line. The miles are long, and it hurts, and I spend a lot of time feeling sorry for my legs and trying to make them feel better with ice packs. I guess I just keep telling myself the harder it is now, the easier the actual race will be. That could be totally false.

Well. At least I'm in the best shape I've been in a few years (I guess since I trained for my last marathon) and can still drink as much beer/wine and eat as many croissants as I please. And I can beat almost anyone I know in a foot race — as long as it is a long distance one. Also, my toes are pretty good looking. And by good looking I mean they are gross, do not look at them.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

French vs. American Dudes

Anyone who talks to me for more than five seconds will learn I don’t like French dudes. I like to generalize them all as creeps.

I could go on and on about this, but instead I will present to you two completely isolated case studies. Your task, my dear blog reader, is to figure out which guy is French and which is American.

1. My bike and I are idling at a red light by République. A guy wearing a bright green tee and nametag – which means he collects money for some charity/scam – frantically starts signaling to me. He has noticed that I have a flat tire, and I need to get out of the street asap. I become calmly frantic and get outta there fast to the safety of the sidewalk, where I start to inspect my bike. Actually, he tells me, you don’t have a flat tire. I just said that to get your attention. Then he proceeds to spin his spiel on the charity/scam he works for by trying to be very very flirtatious.

I am not buying any of it, because he has already proved himself to be a LIAR. I don’t like liars, particularly when it concerns my safety and my bike. Furthermore, he commits an error even more grave than assuming I am a student, which is one of my hugest pet peeves. Instead, he assumes I have quit school. Yes. Naturally. I am young and not enrolled in a university, so that must mean I am a quitter. I am magnificently unimpressed by this guy’s game. I escape back to the street with my bike, whose tires are just as un-flat as they were prior to this waste of 5 minutes of my life, whose name may or may not have been Guillaume.

2. I am taking pictures of an artsy alley in Belleville. A guy approaches me and asks me what model of camera I have. I have a Nikon D80. Oh, I have a D60, he says. This is a good move. He has found a way to talk to me by approaching a common interest of ours. He asks my name, I ask his. We chat for a few minutes. Did you hear about the party tonight? He asks. No, what party? Well, he says, there are going to be a ton of people at this bar in Buttes Chamont. It was a lot of fun last night, and I’m going back tonight. I happen to know exactly what bar he is talking about, because it is one of my favorites. More bonus points, because we enjoy the same bars.

He finishes the conversation by telling me it would be great to see me there later. Then he goes his merry little way, and I go mine. He doesn’t insist on taking my phone number, but still expressed interest in getting to know me better. I have an open invitation to accept the offer or not. If I was looking to meet guys, I would have. Especially because he did not immediately lead me to believe he was a LIAR.

So, who’s who? And what fine example of his culture tastefully and properly knew how to hit on a girl?*

*I feel as though I must add a disclaimer explaining I understand all French or American males are not equal to their respective case studies. I know that. That’s not the point of this exercise.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Easy Peasy

I want to keep my bank account open after I leave, but my branch is really far away, where I first lived when I arrived. I decided it would be more practical to have my account based in Paris proper. So I mentally and physically prepared myself for the process of transferring my account from one branch to another.

Mentally: I figured I would have to go to the bank an average of three times before successfully completing the branch transfer. This is because in France, you must try something an average of three times to ever accomplish it.

Physically: I stuffed a folder full of useless papers the French seem to require for even the most of insignificant of transactions. To prove I had the right to transfer my account to this branch, documents in my folder included, but were no limited to, a letter from my landlord to confirm I in fact live at my current address, an electric bill to confirm that he is in fact the landlord, a copy of his passport to confirm that the landlord is in fact a real person, my check book, a random assortment of important looking papers from the bank with my name and account number plastered all over them, some government documents to verify my address even further, my passport, etc.

All this, and I am not even inside the bank yet.

But by this part of the story, I am. I deal with a poo-pooey woman at reception who says well I really should have made an appointment for something like this, didn’t I know? She guesses she will see if her colleague can see me. Whatever lady. The bank opened 30 seconds ago, and I know I am the only non-employee in it.

So now I am in an office with her colleague, with my bulging folder of useless documents. I am mentally ready for her to tell me I don’t have the right ones.

Instead she doesn’t even look at them. She takes my account number, flips through my passport, prints off a single document. As I sign it she says the transfer will take a few days, and that’s it. Goodbye, and have a nice day.

And I’m like what? What? WHAT?! Never in my year in France has anything ever been this simple. I cannot get over how NORMAL this transaction was. I still can’t. I have wasted entire days, probably even months trying to do stuff like this in France. And here it took 5 minutes. I did not know that was even possible in this country.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cat Attack

My concierge has two cats. This one is named Fifi (I think. We’ll pretend he’s a Fifi for the sake of this post):

Fifi is fat and never does anything but occasionally throw up in the courtyard. He sits and stares and stares. He is the laziest cat I have ever met. He will sit in the same place for hours. I could roll my bike over him, and he still wouldn’t budge. I wouldn’t do that though, because I am a nice person and don’t hurt cats.

I can’t even guess the other cat’s name, and I do not have a picture of he/she/it. Even if I did have a picture of this cat, I would not give it the satisfaction of posting it on my blog. I am mad at it.

This is the scardiest cat I have ever met. I will cross the courtyard, and it will dash away as fast as its little cat legs can carry it. It is terrified of people. It is also apparently extremely terrified of innocent American girls who leave their apartments very early to go running.

This is what happened. I left my apartment very early to go running. I was not entirely awake.

There I am groggily exiting the building, and suddenly there is a mass of black fur on my legs. Then it dashes away as fast as its little cat legs can carry it. I am awake now, because a cat just appeared out of thin air and freaking pounced on me with no prior warning. My legs hurt kinda. I look down. There is damage. Cat has managed to drag its claws across my thighs in three separate spots, and things are starting to get puffy and bloody. As I realize this, I shout F*#% CAT! But no one hears, because no one is up this early.

Then I go running and think about how someone should have taught this cat not to do what it did, because nice cats don’t hurt people. Several days later I see the cat again. It is sitting on a green garbage bin. It does not dash away. It stares at me, and I stare back. Staring contest, me vs. cat.

I lose.

This cat is physically and mentally more powerful than me. I don’t like this cat. Fifi's okay though.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Musée de l'Orangerie

Here's a mini tour of the Musée de l'Orangerie. I went to the other day during my lunch break. I hate when people ramble on about museums in blog posts and preach to you why you should care, so I won't here. I'll just share some pictures. If you want to learn more about the museum, check out the website.





Just a note on this last one. It's a miniature representation of a room in Paul Guillaume's home. I don't know why I have always been a sucker for these bity rooms (favorites are here and here). Maybe because I liked dollhouses when I was little.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Dear Neighbor,

As I write you this, your cell phone or landline phone or fax machine or WHATEVER is still ringing. Just as it has been for the past two weeks or more. Without. Stopping. Ever.

You must be on vacation. I really hope so, because that means you will eventually come back and turn it off. Seriously, neighbor, why in heaven's name would you leave for such an extended period of time and not unplug whatever this thing is that obnoxiously rings 24 hours a day? Why why why would you want a nice, respectful neighbor like me to suffer so much?

The ringing is so constant that sometimes I don't realize it's there. But other times, like when I am trying to sleep, I do notice. It is very unpleasant. Also, as I am sure you already well know, it is very hot here on the top floor of the apartment building. Perhaps the unbearable heat caused you to take a vacation. But I am not on vacation, and instead I open my window. Given the short distance between our apartments, that makes the ringing sound even louder.

I hope you are having a nice time and are enjoying your vacation. I am not enjoying your vacation. Please come back asap. Turn it off. Please.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Month of Bikes

The month of July went by super duper quickly. A bizarro very bike-filled month kept me busy. Some bike-related incidents of July 2009 below.

1. Matt. This is Matt, picture taken by himself:

Matt is a friend from home who quit his job and came to Europe with a bike. He is riding all over the place for six months. He stopped in Paris for about a week and slept on our itty bitty kitchen floor. Matt brought much joy to our lives. He washed dishes, took out the garbage and recycling, vacuumed, and kept the cat we were watching company. We had some picnics, drank some beers, and rode some bikes. It was great fun. One time he got locked out slept on the roof. Don't ask me how. My roommate and Matt on said roof:

2. Anti Metro. After my teaching contract was up at the end of June and I didn't need to take public transportation an hour to work anymore, I didn't renew my metro pass.

The metro is dirty and it smells and there's a whole lot of waiting involved in between transfers. It's an efficient system, but I was just over it. I decided I would ride my bike everywhere. I can't believe how much time I previously spent staring into space while riding the metro. Now I stare at glorious French architecture (although I don't pay attention to it) and get good exercise at the same time. I get to see so much more of the city. Going no metro is probably one of the best things I've done in Paris.

3. Tour de France. So everyone already knows that I followed the Tour a bit. My good friend John, some of his family, and I drove around France and Switzerland to watch the race, then caught the finish when it came down the Champs-Elysées in Paris. I hadn't seen John for a long, long time. It was an eventful reunion. We played some of our old favorite games and invented new ones.

This is us on the Tour with a stolen sign:

While in Paris for the race finish, we also spent several hours on the Eiffel tower doing socially unacceptable things, such as purposefully holding up lines and having races that, if you played aggressively enough, involved pushing strangers out of the way. Here is the most normal picture taken on that adventure:

Overall a good month. A bit stressful, but I survived. All thanks to bikes.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Fake Halfway Mark

Kelly and I just passed the halfway point in marathon training - nine weeks down and nine more to go. But we haven’t reached the tough part yet. By the end of this month, our mileage will double that of what we ran at the beginning. For me, this means devouring gobs more bananas and peanut butter (please send more soon mom!), my clothes becoming a bit more ill-fitting, dragging myself out of bed even more unreasonably early for before-work runs, and being awoken in the middle of the night by even more of those painful, piercing, it-hurts-just-thinking-about-them muscle cramps in my calves.

Even though I train for each marathon pretty much the same way – which is essentially conditioning myself for this very long race by breaking down my body and then building it back up – every time it feels different. Kelly and I always ran together when we were training for St. Louis in 2007. Now that we’re on separate continents, that’s not so possible. I am grateful though that we can keep tabs on each other thanks to tecknology, aka a shared Google calendar we use to update our progress.

I do miss Kelly’s companionship, but training for this marathon while in Europe has its perks, too. When I was on my Tour de France trip, one morning I ran the race route 14 miles through these tiny Swiss villages and fields. The Swiss mountains kept me company. The air felt cleaner than any other air I’ve ever remembered breathing, but I probably just thought that because the nature around me was so green and so big and so full.

I probably won’t get another such run, because I don’t think I’ll be going back to Switzerland before the race. So I’ll just keep trucking away here in Paris. Fortunately, the whole city is disappearing to take their vacation outside of the city, so I’m looking forward to calm and empty streets this August. Me and my TAL podcasts are going to dominate the Paris streets - watch out.

This is what my shoes look like now, for anyone who is interested. I don't know who would be, but I am posting it anyway. They looked like this before.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

104

My first visit to Le Centquatre:

cent = 100 quatre = 4. It's the address. From 1873-1998, it housed the Municipal Funeral Service. The restored building is now hosts artists in residency. The goal is to improve interaction between the public and contemporary art.

I took about a million pictures of this photo booth. It rocked.

Check out the dude on the far left. He was sooooo bored and tooooo cool to show his moves. He sat like that the whole time.


Break dance it out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Favorite Little Girl in France

To get to my apartment, I walk through a courtyard. Oftentimes there is a little girl out and about. I am assuming she is granddaughter of the concierge, whose apartment looks out onto the courtyard.

The little girl is four years ago and looks exactly like Capucine. I don't know her name. I don't know her birthday either. I asked her, but she couldn't remember and said she had to ask her dad.

One time I came home, and she was hanging out the window eating a lollipop.

"Hello!" she said. She is not at all shy.

"Hello!" I said. We chatted about this and that.

"You just bought some bread," she then noticed.

"Yes I did," I said. "Would you like some?"

"I would," she said. So I ripped her off a piece of baguette. Then she jumped off her perch to get something inside. She came back with another lollipop and gave it to me. I secretly think I got the better end of the trade.

Today I came back from a run, and she was watering the flowers in the courtyard.

"Hello!" she said.

"Hello!" I said. "What are you doing?"

"Giving the flowers water," she said.

"Which ones did you already give water to?" I asked.

"Hmm…" she couldn't remember. But she was sure she had already watered the yellow ones. Then the concierge came out and nagged her about not getting her shirt dirty or her shoes wet, and that was the end of our conversation.

I'm sure I'll see her again soon. I hope so, because she's my favorite.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tips From a Travel Writer

Tonight I saw Rolf Potts read at Shakespeare and Co. He is a travel writer. I will admit that I have never read anything of his.* But I like writing, and I like traveling, and I like people who write about traveling, so I went.

I was able to chat with him one-on-one before the event started. I had time for one question, so I asked "what are the most common mistakes young wannabee travel writers make?" His answers:

Blindly submitting your stuff to magazine and websites. "You need to know how to read to know how to write," he said. Basically you need to know what's out there and know what's already been done. You need to know the difference between good travel pieces and bad travel pieces to know what to do and what not to do. And to know all that, you have to read as much of it as you can.

Thinking you can live off of travel writing. Someone invented this total misconception that travel writers make a ton of cash. They don't. "You can travel more widely as an electrician or an IT guy or a stripper," Potts told me. Basically he told me, hey you're only 23. Travel now. Take good notes. Experience life. You can write about it later. He didn't get a passport until he was 25. He didn't publish his first piece until he was 28 (which was on slate.com, you rock dude!). Now it's his career, but it took time.

Don't write about Paris. There's nothing to write about Paris.
Anyone can go to Paris or Budapest or Rome and write "It's beautiful." No one is going to publish that. It doesn't offer any new information. So become an expert on something. Join a rowing team in Paris and write about that aspect of the city. If you grew up on an organic farm, write about organic markets in Paris. Don't just slap yet another layer of wallpaper to what's already out there. Finding a niche is a way to write something new.

He also suggested teaching English as a vehicle to get you overseas. Hey I did that! Does that mean I am going to become a famous travel writer? Heh, prob not. Rolf Potts, thanks for your advice. I was interested to hear what you had to say about travel writing clichés, but then the owner of the bookstore interrupted our covo. Fortunately, I read this article, so I think I already have some good tips.

* But I intend to start!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

These Things I Like

- The Eggs. Most eggs are brown. Of course you can buy brown eggs in America. But they cost more than eggs should. The eggs I buy in Paris aren't refrigerated. I enjoy that everyone here isn't always freaking out about E. Coli and stuff. I guess we do that in America because we have to. There are definitely a lot more problems with regulation of foods in my home country. But my point is really about the eggs. I like the high quality of cheap eggs. Do not, however, get me started on the milk here. That is a whole different story.

- The Roundabouts. As an uncultured American, I was naturally terrified of them at the beginning. Now I find them really quite fun! The mazelike tendancies of roundabouts keep you on your toes. And on a bike, I have maximum power to weave in and out of traffic while my scooter, car, bus and truck friends must just idle there and wait for things to start moving again. Lastly, from a statistical point of view, they are actually much safer.

- My Accent Working For Me. So my French is okay enough that I don't always sound like a total idiot (well, um, maybe just sometimes). Yet it is still very apparent that I am one of those exotic foreigners. This works in my favor, mainly when I am asking for directions, which happens frequently. I find people are very nice to me when they are giving me directions. Once in awhile I even get discounted cups of coffee. Okay that only happened to me once. But I am open to it happening again.

- The Culture Of Eating. In my previous American jobs, my lunch break was typically however long it took me to eat: 30 minutes max. Basically there is no eating culture. You eat because you have to. And then you go right back to work. Or maybe you don't even stop working and eat your lunch at your desk. When I was teaching at French public schools, they shut everything down for two-hour lunch break. At my current grown-up job, everyone take an hour. It's not just about minutes per lunch break. It's about actually taking time to eat and enjoy your meal, make a little bit of an affair out of it, and enjoy some conversation with whomever your dining partners are. Yes, there's work to be done. But this little midday pause is equally as important.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Way Past First Impressions

"I decided I could live here," PK told me after her first day in Paris. "Even if I can't speak the language. It's just so beautiful."

"But don't you think you'd just get used to it? You wouldn't even notice the beauty anymore if you saw it every day," I said.

She said that could certainly not happen. That the city is just too pretty. Her certainty made me sad.

When I moved to Paris in the fall, I went to the Louvre. At first not for the museum, but just to walk around outside and check out the pyramid and the building's architecture. It wasn't my first visit. Still I was way impressed with its hugeness and magnificence. I think I even said "woah…" out loud. Hoping for the same sort of emotion, I decided to run to the Louvre the other day. But I was grumpy because it was bad run, and there were at least 1 million tourists milling about. I wanted to be impressed again by the Louvre. I wasn't. I stayed for 15 unimpressed seconds, turned around and ran home.

On that note, every morning I ride my bike to work down Rue de Rivoli. Along the way, I pass by the following kind-of-a-big-deal monuments and museums: Place de la Bastille, Hôtel de Ville, La Tour Saint-Jacques, Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Le Louvre (again), Les Tuileries, and Place de la Concorde. If I stretch my neck, I can see Notre Dame and the Grand Palais. But I don't. I hardly ever look twice. Am I a bad person?

I guess I just feel guilty for not being as into Paris as the visitors that stop by are. I don't know if French people or Parisian people feel the same way. Do they not really notice this stuff either?

To finish up this really incohesive random chain of thoughts, I would like to mention that I am constantly wowed by riding through roundabouts on my bike. That is something about Paris that never fails to impress me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tour de France Injury (Worth It)

My friend John and his family are obsessed with the Tour. For years, he’s been talking about following the race in person. This year, he and some of his family finally made it to France, rented a car, and made it happen. I went this weekend to tag along for a few days.

The cool thing about following the Tour de France* with John and co. is their absolute passion for the race. They know almost all the bikers and teams. They know all the logistics of the race. When I say follow the Tour de France, I don’t mean watch the race whoosh by and then go home. Follow means map out your route for the whole day so we can catch the bikers at as many possible points. And follow means taking the food drop very, very seriously.

The food drop occurs every day somewhere around the halfway point. The racers get fair warning when they bike through this, minus the dorky American standing in the middle.

They will then start looking for their team cars so they can pick up a bag full of water, energy bars, gels, and vials of mystery sporty fluids. Here are all the cars lined up, ready to hand the bikers their lunch.

The racers grab their bags and start rummaging for the good stuff. They jam what they want in their pockets, then toss the rest by the side of the road.

Here is where the serious Tour de France followers come in. These are the people who want the throwaways. Those bags and water bottles are prime souvenirs. Especially ones from major teams, such as Astana (Lance’s team). If you want to get your hands on any of this stuff, you have to move fast and be aggressive. You have to choose your spot and crowd anyone out who tries to get into your space. You have to take your eyes off the race and keep them on the ground.

John and co. coached me on important tactics, and soon I was ready for the food drop. We staked out our spot and waited. When the bikers came by, I was ready.

I saw a water bottle drop about 10 feet away from me in front of a group of people. It was right at their feet, but I decided it was mine. I instantly ran for it and intended to soccer kick it away. Instead I, as John described it, second base slid into it. Maybe I fell only inches from the bike race going on. Maybe I ripped some chunks of skin off my foot, thus limped around for the rest of the day. Maybe it was a bit too much aggressiveness for a water bottle. But hey, I got it. Actually I got two, after I dangerously dashed across the street for another.

After we regrouped, we had two bags, three water bottles, and lots of icky looking sportsy food between the four of us. I went home with all the sportsy food to help me out with marathon training. And one hard-earned official team water bottle to remember my few days following the Tour de France!

* I would just like to mention that 95% of the French people I told about this trip scoffed, yes scoffed at the idea of following the Tour de France. “Have fun” they said with a giant eye roll and a tone of voice that meant ‘you certainly can not have fun doing that.' I don’t get how none of them could not get excited about the biggest most awesomenest bike race in the entire world taking place on their own home soil. Maybe I don’t talk to the right French people.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I Hate French Creeps

This is what happened to me today. I was running and this 14ish-year-old kid who was walking in the opposite direction reached out a touched my boob. It took my brain about 2 seconds to register what had happened, turn myself around 180°, and start chasing him down.

He heard me coming and looked over his shoulder to see a furious, 135-pound américaine in a bright yellow Mizzou tee sprinting towards him as fast as she possibly could. Would you have been scared? He was. He was terrified. He was smart to start running as fast as he could, too. I was ready to throw him to the ground, and he knew it.

I'm so sick of the disgusting men in this country. Until this kid, no one has gone so far as to touch me, but my personal space and general level of comfort gets violated all the time by gross French creeps. So the boob toucher is just some punk kid. But what about the security guard at Monoprix (that's kinda like a Target)? Do you think it's appropriate for him to say "Have you found some nice panties?" in a top-notch creep voice while I am browsing lingerie? Um let me think, no. Your job is to make sure people don't steal stuff, not infringe my personal underwear shopping space. I've got lots more absurd stories if anyone wants to hear them.

What pisses me off the most is that these men know I'm foreign. I have light-colored hair and skin, smile occasionally, and run a lot — qualities you will be hard-pressed to find in most French girls. They maybe assume I can't speak French or will be flattered by their creepiness or I don't even know what. But they're taking advantage of my foreignness.

I used to get really grossed out and flustered, my French would fail me, and the best I could do was make a disgusted face. But lately, either because my French is getting better or I just can't stand them anymore, I've started changing my tactic. This is why I started chasing the boob toucher with every ounce of energy I had left.

I wanted so badly to catch this kid and kick him real super hard with my strong marathon legs. That would have rocked. But I kinda knew from the beginning I wouldn't succeed. I already had already run six miles and was way tired. He had run zero miles and was terrified of me. After four blocks, he make a couple of sharp turns, and I lost him.

But even though I knew I probably wouldn't catch him, at least I didn't just let it slide. At least I got to see the horrified look on his face when he realized that I was coming for him. At least I made him run for it. And I hope I made him think twice.

So next time a French creep says something inappropriate, I'm not going to feel awkward and make a weird face. Maybe I won't try chase him down. Or hmm… if he's especially creepy, maybe I will. Watch out creeps.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What I Learned

I came to Paris to teach French kids English. Remember when I went to journalism school? Heh. I had no idea what I was doing. But throughout these nine months, I definitely learned a thing or two:

Don't overprepare. Kids are weird. They can be really smart one day and really stupid the next. They can concentrate magnificently today and be spilling their pencil cases everywhere, climbing under their desks, trying to jump out the windows tomorrow. There's no way to tell what kind of day it was going to be. If I put too much time into planing a lesson, there was a 50%-100% chance it would be wasted work. So I put a limit on prep time.

But be prepared. A classroom of 30 nine year olds with no lesson plan? I don't even want to think about it.

Get over it. Sometimes I would have the crappiest classes. Seriously some of those kids effing sucked. I would leave so frustrated and angry that they were such little punks. But I would really have something to be depressed about if I let some 10 year olds get the best of me. I learned to get over those horrible classes within 30 seconds of the bell.

Don't take it personally. If I had a quarter for every time a kid was impolite to me in class? Well then I'd certainly not be working this low-paying job. And if I got upset every time a kid mocked my French or my accent? Well I'd be pissed off until next October.

Interwebs. I can't draw stuff. I can't even write in a straight line. Even knowing this, for some reason at the beginnning, I actually tried to make my own worksheets. Terrible idea. Google images does it so much better.

One idealistic American can't fight the system.
I find the French school system much too academic for these poor little kids. And I wanted so badly to show them that learning could be fun. That we could play games and learn via interactive activities, and hell, even color with markers!!!!! But when it comes down to it, even the youngest kids have adapted to this dry, creativity-stiffling method of learning: every school day spent copying off the chalkboard, not questioning the answer given to you, and always underlining the date, in red ink, using your ruler. So I had to toss my off-the-wall fun learning games out the window quite often. The kids just didn't know how to deal. If I had more energy, I would have pushed more upbeat, move-around-the-classroom lessons. But I was tired of trying. The system doesn't work like that. And I learned that I couldn't change the system in a 45-minute lesson period.

Friday, June 26, 2009

People in Paris I Like

I haven't been fair. Lately I've been griping about things and people I find annoying. But the fact of the matter is, I wouldn't still be here if there weren't good things and people here, too.

I've been tutoring two little girls all year, and this past Wednesday was our last session. The moms threw a going-away dinner party, complete with some other English speaking friends and another family I babysit for. The girls and I surprised everyone with our production of "Three Billy Goats Gruff" (there was a bit of trouble with my flimpsy cardboard-and-tape bridge. It kind of fell down several times). And then all the moms surprised me with a gift of their own.

They gave me three lithographs of Paris monuments, sketched by an artist named Bernard Buffet. Here's the one of Sacre Coeur:

I wish I could find a better way to describe the sketches other than that they are absolutely perfect. But that is all I can think to say. They are a perfect combination of contemporary art and ancient Paris architecture. And they are perfect because they are gifts from people who I care about, and people who care about me.

These aren't the only families who kept their eyes on me these past several months to make sure I was getting along okay. I still stay in touch with the family I lived with when I first arrived, and occasionally stop over for lunch or dinner. Another family I used to babysit for also showered me with gifts when I "retired," one which was a cookbook of traditional French dishes.

So yeah, I don't have too much to complain about. When I leave Paris, I will definitely thave some great souvenirs to remember these people by.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fleeting Moment of Anger

Today, I bumped into this woman who works at the administration office for my schools. Back in the day, she was to be my go-to person. The one who was supposed to put me in touch with my schools and see that everything went smoothly.

She never really helped me much. In fact, I think she lost an important letter I needed months back for my residency card. Early on, I realized she wasn't too concerned with any problems I might have, so I never bothered her with them.

So today I saw her for the first time in months, and she asked how the school year was going. Thanks for asking. It's three days from being over. And then she mentioned that of the three of girls who came to this town to teach for the year, I'm the only one who is still here.

I know why one girl went home, and I can assume about the other. It has a lot to do with how poorly organized this program is. When you arrive to a foreign country and have nowhere to live, thus no way to open a bank account, thus no way to get paid, meanwhile you don't know where or when you work or even how to do your job... this all really sucks. And when the person designated to help you with this stuff simply doesn't? That kinda sucks, too.

So I'm one of three who stuck out the year, and she seemed entertained. Nonchalant. Not even wondering what might have happened or why they found it so unbearable that they went back to America. Her lack of caring made me so angry.

But what was I going to say? I don't have the power to change the program's faults. I don't have power to make this woman do her job better. So I cut the conversation short, went to school, and concerned myself with more important matters. We are singing Old McDonald today. Does anyone know what sound a rabbit makes?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

These Things Peeve Me

Generally, I think I've adapted pretty well to life here. I even ate a restaurant cheeseburger with a knife and fork once, because I guess that's how they do it here. But here are some things that I absoutely cannot get used to.

- Garbage bags. In my country, garbage bags have built-in handles. When it comes time to prepare the bag for its journey to the dumpster, you simply tie the handles together. Here, each bag comes equipped with a flimsy little red tie thingy. Sometimes the flimsy little red tie thingy mysteriously disappears. Or it will break in two. Even if neither of those things happen, it's just awkward to have to deal with a little red tie thingy when you are trying to quickly close a smelly bag of garbage.

- Square pillows. These are for hiding stains on/decorating your couch. Square pillows also make nice seat cushions for your lawn furniture. But square pillows are not for your bed. I can't explain why, that's just how it works. I slept horribly for months until I bought some rectangular pillows off Craigslist.

- Street cleaners wasting water. There are these fire hydrants type devices that exist for the sole purpose of dumping gallons and gallons of water onto the streets, supposedly to clean them. At the same time, the streets are eternally filthy. Cuz Paris is a filthy city. No one respects the cleanliness. So what is the street cleaner people's logic? Why waste all this water for no reason?

- Shower heads not being attached to the wall. It makes showers so much easier. I don't understand why this concept never caught on over here.

- PDA. Why do I have to trip over people making out everywhere I go? Those metro poles are for maintaining your balance, not for making out against. Park benches are for sitting on, not for making out on. Sidewalks are for walking on, not for making out. Crosswalks are for crossing the street, not for making out.

- Poorly designed ads. It would be better if I had some pictures to show you. But I'd say 75% of the metro ads look really, really bad. Design isn't my speciality. Yet I do know one ad should not randomly switch between italic and bolded type, nor should it contain three different fonts. It's also a good idea to choose an image that makes sense. Additionally, ads should not be an opportunity to smush as much type and as many pictures as can possibly fit in the space. Newsflash: all that stuff confuses people. I learned these basics in my design for dummies class in college. I wonder where the people that design these ads went to school.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Almost The End

Anyone who follows my Twitter account might be familar with my sometimes negative attitude towards my job. Some past tweets:

- Children's joyful voices wafting up from recess are giving me a headache. Weekend vaca can't come soon enough.
- If another child asks Miss Betsy yet another repetitive question, Miss Betsy will punch that child in the face.
- I think I wake up every Monday and think "I don't want to go to school today."

Yup, I am mentally ticking off the remaining days (there are eight). Some reasons: Half of the teachers don't take me seriously, and that attitude trickles down to their students. I despise planning lessons, making worksheets, and dealing with the finicky school printer and/or photocopier. I never studied or learned how to be a teacher. That lack of experience continues to be a challenge. Oh yeah. And one of my students is a thief.

Based on the evidence above, it would make sense to assume that I am so ready to be done and done. I am. But… Okay… I can't actually believe I am saying this. I might miss it just a little bit.

For every little brat who still can't write the date correctly in English, there are three kids who rock. There are kids who are excited to learn and kids who ask me intelligent questions. There are kids who kiss me on the cheek to say hello and kids who write me little notes to tell me they missed me over vaction.

When it comes down to it, I like kids. They have funny kid personalities and say funny kid things. Like the one who asked me if I flew home to Chicago every night after school. Or another who asked me if I could be the new substitute teacher, because he thought the current sub was mean and lame. When I arrive in the morning, I can't deny that 50 kids screaming 'ELLO!!! with their little French accents always, without fail, makes me smile.

Yeah, this year hasn't been half bad. It's been challenging, but no day has ever been the same. Sorry I frequently complained about you, kids. But seriously. You can be such evil fiends sometimes.

Monday, June 08, 2009

One Week and One Day In

Kelly and I have survived the first week of marathon training. Go us. Making it through one week doesn't really mean anything though. There are four long months ahead. The mileage will slowly increase and soon enough, we'll find ourselves doing those lonely Sunday 20 milers.

I always feel weird talking about this running stuff to people who aren't runners or have no interest in ever running a marathon. How much do people want to know?

Things I would like to talk about: How pretty it was to watch the sunset behind Notre Dame the other night as I was running towards it. That I didn't mind the constant rain on Saturday's 8-mile run, because I had the trail almost to myself, something that never happens in Paris. Also I would like to mention how tired I always am. I fell asleep again on the train today, and someone had to wake me up to tell me we had arrived at the station. And Saturday I decided to shop all day after that long run, and a few hours in, I realized I was kind of limping because my legs were angry at me. That was not fun.

What else? There's lots I could talk about. When you run almost every day and dedicate four months of your life to this one silly really really long race (26.2 miles, in case you didn't know. Or 42 kilometers for you weird European people that don't think in miles), you think about it a lot. You pay more attention to what you eat, and think everyday about whether you are going to squeeze in a few miles before or after work, and you wish you didn't live on the 6th floor, because all those stairs hurt after you are already tired from all those miles.

But you also think about how you're really glad you're doing this. Working towards this goal gives you some sort of purpose in life or something. It feels good to whip your body into this kind of shape. You can eat whatever you want and never gain weight.

Well, I've already said too much. If you want to know about marathons and things, ask me. But that's all for now.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Apologize To Me Child

Last week a couple of kids were annoying me. They were battling each other Star Wars style with their pens. No matter how many times I told them to stop, they wouldn't. Finally I just took the pens away.

This is nothing new. I confiscate kids' stuff all the time when it's distracting me. Mostly it's rulers, pens (they're supposed to write in pencil) and those little finger skateboards. I usually give the kids their junk back at the end of class. But these two were particularly getting on my nerves.

I just didn't want to give them the satisfaction of getting their pens back, so I made up a dumb reason to keep them. So I told them I was keeping the pens until they wrote me apologies. I didn't expect them to do it. If I were the kid, I would just get a new pen.

Well today I got this on a scrap of paper: "Je m'excuse pour mon comportement d'éleve mal élevé du Mardi 28/05/09. Miss Betsy, et je promis de ne plus recommencé." Basically it says sorry for having bad manners and I won't do it again. It probably took him eight seconds to write. In French, the note kind of doesn't even make any sense. But I kept my part of the deal and gave him his pen.

The whole thing reminded me of a This American Life episode, "How to Talk to Kids." In the very last act, Dan Savage makes a point as to why sometimes it's okay to show kids that no matter how bad they can be, adults can be badder. My story isn't as dramatic as his was, but I did convince a kid to submit to a dumb punishment for misbehaving in class. I definitely got a little authority kick out of that. I owned you kid. Okay it was over a 4-color BIC, but I still owned you. Kid 0, (Miss) Betsy 1.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Day 1

Today is the first day of marathon training! Hurrah! I'm excited to get my new shoes dirty.

I didn't get the opportunity today, as Mondays are cross training days. In marathon speak, that means doing any sort of exercise that is not running. So I took advantage of the blue sky and the fact that today is yet another random French holiday and biked to the Bois de Vincennes. It's a huge park/forest just outside Paris. It's about a 20-minute bike ride.

This place is a sporty person's heaven. There are a million trails everywhere with tons of shade. I'm going to do all my long runs there, though I'll have to carry a map. I can already see myself getting lost and having to run an extra 5 miles.

I found a nice place to eat the little picnic I had prepared. I listened to a This American Life podcast and thought deep thoughts. I planned to read or write things too, but I had already gotten quite a bit of sun and was feeling tired. So I biked home. It was a great little excursion. I am ending this post now, because I am boring myself.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Getting Things Done

I applied for a job in Chicago. The tiny chance of maybe, possibly being hired got me thinking. What if I had to leave Paris within the month? Would I be satisfied with everything I did here? Would I have given my time in Paris a good enough shot?

Naturally, the answer will always be no. You can always do more. You can always learn more. You can always see more, especially in this city. But all that aside. Would I have any major regrets if I left tomorrow?

Well… I wanted to go up in the Eiffel Tower again in honor of my late grandpa, who took me on my first France and Paris trip. I wanted to see a ballet and/or an opera. I wanted to eat at Dans le Noir, a pitch-black resturant with blind servers. I wanted to visit an old empty metro station. I'm just naming a few. There are more things I wanted to do.

So I'm going to stop lollygagging. I'm going to make a better effot to get some of this stuff done. Ideally I have until the end of August to cross everything off my list, but you never know. Could be sooner.

To celebrate this new determination of mine, I went to the Grand Palais to see the Andy Warhol exhibit, which I've had my eye on for months and months. I particularly liked the collection of Interview covers, the magazine he started in the '60s. The rest was good, too. I'm glad I went. I have been meaning to for awhile. Today I learned that getting around to doing something means to just go on and do it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Photo Outtakes

I was editing photos for my little freelance gig, and came across some I never used.

I took this just outside of the Palais de Tokyo. If I had a scooter in Paris, I would want it to look somewhat like this.

This is just around the Centre Pompidou, or Beaubourg, as the locals say. I don't say Beaubourg because I sound stupid thanks to my dumb accent.

This is one of my favorite hipster streets in Paris. It's Rue Tiquetonne. There are a lot of hipster boutiques and even a hipster hair salon, where I got my hair cut once.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bike in Paris

I thought it would always be cool to have a bike in Paris, and an opportunity to buy one presented itself. Another language assistant was leaving the country. She was offering the bike, locks, lights and helmet for €70. So I bought it. It looks like this:

It's not the perfect bike. Its brakes go EEEEEEEEEE!!!, which is a bit embarrassing. But I can get that fixed. It's a bike nonetheless, and I'm excited to cruise around the Paris streets this summer.

Another added benefit was that I paid the seller with $$. I've been holding onto the 20-dollar bills my grandparents send me every few months. As the seller was leaving for the states the next day, she didn't really need any more local currency. So the bike didn't even cost me €1.

I hope my other bike doesn't find out. My blue Schwinn road bike with yellow handlebar tape is sitting in my parents' garage, and I miss it dearly. It is a great bike, and we have been through a lot together. Like when I dropped it off my car during rush hour on Lakeshore Drive. Or when it dropped me on a cement sidewalk, and I thought I had broken my arm. Ahhh… great memories. I haven't forgotten you blue Schwinn with yellow handlebar tape. You are still my favorite. The Peugeot is only temporary. Shhh… just don't tell it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Moving On Up: Maps

Anyone who knows me well knows that I get lost easily. In other words, I can lost in my hometown. In September, I brought the following with me to Paris, ready to battle the directionally challenged aspect of my being:

It's a Paris City Moleskine. A notebook with Paris maps and blank pages for taking notes and writing deep thoughts. Back then, it was a great tool. I had one small convenient notebook for writing addresses and directions and for finding places.

But I've outgrown the notebook. I no longer need any of the information written inside. The old addresses and shopping lists aren't doing me much good. The maps aren't always accurate. Oftentimes they don't name those little pedestrian streets of which Paris has a million. The metro map is missing the last stop on Line 14.

Okay, so no one visiting Paris needs to take Line 14 to its final stop. Which is why the book is really useful for a tourist or newcomer. I, however, needed something more serious. Enter this:

Tourists carry fold-out maps. Parisians carry l'indispensable (the essential) Paris Pratique. It's a book of maps separated by neighborhood. It lists all the metro stops, bike stations, one-way streets, and all sorts of other handy info. It's small, thin, and slips easily into a purse or decently sized pocket.

The problem with my Paris Pratique is its age. It's the 2009 edition, aka too new. It's clear that I haven't been living here long, because the corners aren't worn, the pages arent frayed, and the cover isn't warped. It's getting there. My Paris Pratique got rained on a bit, so some of the pages are a tad-bit water damaged. I'm proud.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

So When Are You Coming Home?

I get this question several times a week from my friends, family and pretty much anyone I know back in the states. My teaching contract finishes the end of June, so everyone wants to know how quickly I will hurry back to that whole other life I left in the USA.

Moving here wasn't easy, especially at the beginning. But it also won't be easy to leave. I've worked really hard to carve out a little niche for myself in Paris. Believe it or not, this hasn't been a vacation. I have a life here, too. And I also really like baguettes.

After much deep thought and journal-entry writing, I've decided to stay in Paris at least until the end of the summer. Although making money might be an issue, I'm confident I can figure something out. I'll either keep freelancing or start waiting tables or something.

Why do I want to stay longer? I worry that I haven't given Paris the chance it deserves. There is so much in this city that I haven't gotten around to doing. And I would also like to take a couple months to concentrate on pitching and writing some freelance pieces that have been floating around in my head for some time. Plus I can't deny that my French still needs more work.

So I'll come home, eventually. I just don't know when that eventually is. Probably when I can no longer stand the riduculous level of second-hand smoke here. The first shirt I am pulling out of my wardrobe when I arrive home is this one.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Missing American Food

This weekend, I was in the neighborhood of the American foods store. So I popped in to take in some familiar sites and smells from the homeland. That Betty Crocker cake mix looks so foreign in Paris.

I walked out with a box of €3.50 Kraft Mac & Cheese. Almost four times the price, but Sooooo good, and equally so bad (For those who don't know: it's a box of pasta with cheese-flavored powder. Cook pasta, add powder, butter and milk. Eat. And get fat, because that powder is extremely high in calories). This got me to thinking about what other foods I really miss from home, mostly unhealthy stuff. Here are some things I never eat here:

- Macaroni & Cheese
- Nerds
- Peanut butter M & Ms
- Junior mints
- Peanut butter that actually tastes good (Can be found in the foreign foods section of the grocery store, but doesn’t take quite right)
- Deep dish pizza (Chicago only)
- Italian beef sandwiches (Chicago only)
- Hot dogs smothered with delicious toppings, not ketchup of course (of the Chicago variety)
- Lakota coffee (Columbia only)
- Chicken wings
- Potato skins
- Chocolate soy milk
- Bagels
- Bacon
- Pie, any kind. cherry, blueberry, pumpkin preferably.

I'm sure there's more. I had to do some thinking to make this long of a list. Like I said, these foods just simply do not exist here, so I kind of forgot about most of them.

Also, for fun, I google imaged "american foods." Basically it's pictures of the worst possible everything you could eat.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Way in Which I Will Never be French

So I'm 22, going on 23. I graduated one year ago, after a normal time period of four years at college. Then, it was time for me to go out into the world and make something of myself.

And no one, (almost) no one in France understands what the hell I am doing.

"What university are you in?" a teacher at school asked me the other day. I quickly realized she had just assumed I was enrolled in a French university. "Did I tell you I was taking classes here?" I asked her. "No, I just thought you were."

I introduced myself to the secretary at my new office. "I'll be working here a couple days a week," I said. "Oh, you're an intern?" "No. I'll be WORKING here a couple days each week."

And on and on. I am constantly being asked these questions. How is it possible that I have already finished school? Am I sure I finished school? So I'm doing a teaching internship? Does my job pay me? How old am I again? Wait, I work to make my own money? Huh?

I will make a broad sweeping generalization here, and say that French people stay in college until they are about 25-27 years old, then live off their parents at least as long. So it's natural for them to assume everyone else in the world does, too. I try really hard to understand this culture, I really do. But I am contantly annoyed that the French are tagging me as something I'm not, then giving me the impression that they think I am worth less than I really am.

Why does a 22-year-old have to be in school? Is she not allowed to work alongside her superiors? Will going to school for three more years give her that right? Is she is not capable of working to support herself?

Well I am capable, France. And so are plenty of my American friends. I'm not the only one. I came to your country to understand your culture. Now open your ears and listen to mine. I am not a student. I am not an intern. Mom and dad do not pay my rent and feed me. I am a 22-year-old adult. Can you handle that?

Sadly, I think the answer is no. So I'll just keep getting annoyed by this. The question will come again in the next couple of days. So what university do you go to? grrrrr stop asking me!