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.