mercredi, janvier 31
posted by Gina at 21:45

The other night, I went out to meet two girlfriends for a drink. I picked a bar in the 1st and showed up to find one of them already there with another friend she'd brought along. Within 10 seconds of my arrival, this other friend insisted that the music was too loud and that we must find another bar. So just as the last of our quartet arrived, we took off for another spot, all chatting as we walked across the Pont Neuf into the Saint-Germain area. This other girl was British but my two friends are françaises so French was what we were speaking. After I said something, the Brit turned her head to me and coldly said, "I think it's silly speaking French to other anglophones." And thus I met little Miss Bad Vibe (not her real name, oddly).
Miss Bad Vibe had come over to Paris for a year of study and decided to stay on for a few extra months of watching dubbed Sex and the City episodes and slinging beers at an English Pub in town. Apparently an expert on several subjects, she enlightened us all evening with her personal display of wisdom. After a few months in Paris, she could explain all aspects of French culture. French girls? They don't have girlfriends because they don't trust eachother. Nevermind the fact that we were sitting there drinking wine with two French girls who are indeed quite good friends. But that's insufficient evidence because their parents aren't all French-born and raised.
Eventually, one of my friends asked me something about my wedding last year. Bad Vibe's big mouth gaped open as she turned to me and and whined, "You're marrieeeed??" much in the same tone of voice one would say "You're abandoning your medical career to join the circuuuus??"
"Why are you married? You're so young!"
She followed this with a lengthy soliloquy of merde stating that marriage is when you concede all the excitement and vitality of your youth to begin a long, slow life of burden that causes body and soul to rot until there's nothing left of you. You know, suicide.
You give up all projects, travel plans and adventures to bed down and watch the rest of the world continue on. One day you're the Mona Lisa, the next you're the manly looking wife in American Gothic. You get the point. Marriage=bad. Bad Vibe wrapped it up with an attribution of her facts to personal experience and an article she read in some magazine.
Wow, I thought. Have I thrown it all away too soon?
What was the deal? Are married people supposed to be totally dull as opposed to the sparkles and mystery of the single life? In a society that gobbled up Sex and the City and Bridget Jones' Diary, are we to the point where married people are just cows put out to pasture? This can't be. Look at the fascinating husbands and wives who dazzle today's world.
David and Cathy Guetta. Serge and Tatiana Sorokko. Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel. You want them at your parties- they're glamorous, captivating, interesting and married. There's tons of cool married couples. And they're not all doing it just to celebrate bikini-clad on a yacht in Saint Tropez, only to divorce when the party's over. (You may know of whom I speak.)
I know plenty of American Gothics who are just as fun now as when they were Mona Lisas. They still stay out til the wee hours, sipping the latest cocktails at Hotel Costes and listening to sub-groove deep house with dubby elements in the downtempo range. And everything else the cool kids are doing .
Even without all the fun, it's not like marriage is a bunch of lovey-dovey, sugar-covered bliss all the time.
As Nick Hornby writes in How to Be Good, "What you don't ever catch a glimpse of on your wedding that somedays you will hate your spouse, that you will look at him and regret ever exchanging a word with him... if anyone thought about these things, then no one would ever get married... the impulse to get married would come from the same place as the impulse to drink a bottle of bleach."
But just understand this, Miss Bad Vibe- whether married at 21 or still single at 50, you are the only one responsible for your life's happiness. It's not a question of whether you are betrothed or not. And if you go around criticizing strangers' lifestyles, you may develop a weird skin virus that will turn your skin green and give you scales. I read an article about it in some medical journal. (Ha, you're not the only one fluent in boollsheet.)
mardi, janvier 23
posted by Gina at 14:52

I am standing in line at the Prefecture waiting to present my paperwork to get my Carte de Sejour, that sacred, sought after document which allows me to live and work in France. Until the magic moment I have it in my posession, I have a Recepissé d'un Titre de Sejour, which is French for Card That Entitles Us to Continually Piss You Off by Making You Come Back to the Prefecture Frequently for Nothing.
A provisionary document that I received August 1, my recepissé was originally marked valid until October 31, before which I was to receive something in the mail signalling me to come in for the Real Deal. Come October 29, I still had nothing so I went to the Prefecture to follow up.
A skinny woman in an almost translucent blouse looked up my file on her computer and unapologetically said, "It's not ready yet."
What do I do until it's ready?
She paused, before pulling out a stamp and pen, marking an official statement on the back saying my We're Entitled to Piss You Off card was good until January 22. Clever.
January 22 quickly approached and yet those merry souls of the French administration still hadn't sent me anything in the mail. So a few days before my card's expiration, I went to the Prefecture for another two tons of fun.
Between the first step in the process and my fourth visit here, I was accustomed to the long wait in line and all the serendipitous moments involved. My lower back became pained from standing so long. The old lady in front of me turned so as not to cough in the face of her companion and thus coughed directly at me. The man at the front of the line faced the empty booth where the worker has disappeared for the time it takes to drink a coffe, smoke a cigarette and read the paper. A woman was screaming at her kids in Arabic. The Asian girl behind me was standing so close that I was a centimeter away from getting felt up. My purse strap was starting to sear into one shoulder while the bag with all my official files cut into the other. My shoulders themselves were drooping under the weight. Another visit here and my shoulders will be level with my chest.
After the standing pain extended to my knees and feet, I think maybe I should have become an international celebrity before coming here. No way did Johnny Depp have to go through this crap when he moved to France. Likewise, I wouldn't have had to do all this if I'd married another American. Marrying a strapping young Californian lad wouldn't have involved long lines at French prefectures. Suddenly, images came to mind of Rita Moreno singing at me: "One of your own kind, stick to your own kiiiiind."
But my heart, Anita, but my heart.
After my West Side Daydream, I finally made it to the front of the line. And was told by a short little Frenchman that my card is not ready and that I have to come back. And the little man wasn't even going to do the magic stamp and signature on the back of my paper, extending the expiration date! No, I have to come back on the 22 and do this all over again. With a photo ID and my medical certificate (the one I lost an entire day getting). And another document on which I had to glue 4 stamps from the Treasury on that cost 55€ each.
And so here I am. I've got my required papers and am here on the requested date. Today, it's a 6 foot tall man behind me crowding my personal space. But I don't care. This should be it. After an hour and a half of waiting, I reach the front of the line and eagerly present my paperwork. The woman behind the counter is helping three people at once, but when she sees my Recepissé, she grabs it and looks up something on her computer screen. And smirks - I swear she is smirking- before handing it back to me.
"Your Carte de Sejour is not ready yet," she says, satisifed at my horrified expression. "You must come back in April."
I am so frusterated I can't talk. Do I just grin and bear it or jump on the countertop and go for her jugular? The latter, though tempting, might complicate things if I ask for French citizenship later, so I keep my feet on the ground. She does the little stamp and signature thing on the back of my We're Entitled to Continually Piss You Off card, extending its validity to April 15. Then she slides it back my way and moves on to her next victim. No apologies. No "bon courage." No one here thinks it is at all a shortcoming on their part that a routinely handled document is (hopefully) going to be delivered six months late.
I remember when I was in high school and listened to that Primus song DMV that says "I've been to hell, I spell it... I spell it DMV. Anyone who's been here knows exactly what I mean."
Well, Primus has clearly never been to my local Prefecture. Otherwise, they'd know how hell is really spelled.
mardi, janvier 16
posted by Gina at 16:07

My friend JJ grew up in Palm Desert and was the only blonde in her grade school which was choc full of latino kids. I was a latina kid at predominantly white schools. But neither of us wins the "Fish Out of Water" contest if we're up against Kamini.
He's a French rapper/nurse (yes, I said a rapper and a nurse) of Congolese descent who grew up as the only black kid in an itty bitty French village called Marly-Gomont, where the average age is 65 years old, 95% of the population is made up of cows and all the other inhabitants are whiter than white.
He wrote a little song about it, made a low budget video with a friend, put it online and suddenly became a hit. It's a funny take on his life and he gets the farmers to dance a little hip hop, but he does take a stab at the racism he dealt with growing up. This video has been big in France for a few months now and the latest is that it's inspired a few young whipper snappers to steal Marly-Gomont road signs. The Sunday news did a report in which residents of the town and Kamini himself told sign stealers to cut it out. Check out the video- if you don't speak French I found an unofficial translation of the lyrics online here.
samedi, janvier 13
posted by Gina at 11:49

I can go outside right now without a damn scarf and that's just not normal.
This is January in Paris and I'm freaking out that I can walk outside for an hour without the cold making the insides of my ears hurt. Or my nose run. Or my knees shiver. That's what Parisian winters are supposed to be about. So why did I see a girl out last night wearing sandals???
A few months ago, the weather was cold enough to cover the ground in frost at my in-laws' in the countryside and to kill a few unfortunate homeless people in Paris. The forecast for today, however, is 11°C (52°F). Quoi? One site states the average temperature for Paris in January as 3°C (39°F).
Everyone I talk to says the same thing: This is really great, but does it mean we're doomed?
Is this freaky heat really because of us selfish humans with our cars and smoke spitting factories? Surely this has happened in history before. On a taxi ride home once, the driver said he'd been told by an elderly passenger that after the turn of the century, it'd gotten so hot in Paris that the Seine had dried up to the point that you could wade across it in certain areas. However, I can't verify this story and the cabbie's historian credentials weren't hanging next to his taxi license.
But while I couldn't find any information on this story, I did stumble across this article which tells of a similar account that happened in Paris back in pre-automobile 1540.
Then I found this bit from a 1975 Newsweek article that scared readers about global cooling. Are you confused yet?
When I go home to Southern California, what always gets me is how many people are driving their huge trucks and suvs everywhere. Unless you're in construction or you help friends move houses every weekend, why the hell are you driving that? My stomach always turns as I see the brown haze hang over the mountains from the 210 freeway. Hhmm, that's the sweet air your kids are breathing.
I love Paris, the city that lets me go everywhere without having a car at all. But that's not to say we've got it better here. The périphérique that circles Paris is always congested and I can't go for a run along the Seine (which, in our neighborhood, runs alongside a busy highway) without feeling like I've smoked half a pack. There are reports that predict a future rise in deaths caused by air pollution in European cities.
Let's bring back the horse and buggy already!
There are those who think the issue of our affect on the climate change has been blown out of proportion and that climate change shouldn't be exploited and used to scare people. That's nice in theory, but can you explain the sandal clad pedestrian last night?
Fortunately, the temperature looks it will be dropping a bit in the next few days. And hopefully soon, we will have the reassurance of a real Parisian winter. We'll be happy to be miserably cold.
mercredi, janvier 10
posted by Gina at 12:18

Today les Soldes start and all the stores in France have their prices marked down for pushy shoppers who will stop at nothing to get what they've got their eyes on. It's a nationwide, bi-annual and often violent sale that lasts a month. I'd check it out but the last time I went during the first week I almost got a black eye and lost a shoe in the cyclone of price tags and panic (not a joke). So I did something that should have been less stressful. I did away with our Christmas tree.
Husband told me we're not allowed to just leave it on the sidewalk; we have to cut it into bitty pieces and dispose of it properly. I'd love to disbelieve that, but it is true that I haven't seen any abandoned trees outside in the neighborhood.
"I think I've got a saw in the cellar," says Husband, leaving for work.
Damn. I hate our cellar, but I want to get rid of this tree, so I grab the keys and go down into the underground corridor lined with broken glass and rat poison on the floor. Each tenant in the building has a storage compartment and I unlock and open ours- which hasn't got a saw in it. So where is it? How can you lose a saw? Frusterated I've braved the dungeon for nothing, I go back upstairs. Now, I'm just getting plain mad that I have no solution. I try to tie the branches and trunk together into a neat bundle, but the branches balloon out again. I break off a few of them with my hand. Then a few others. Suddenly, all my frustrations from the last week surface.
The Prefecture who makes me stand in line for hours to ask about paperwork they should have sent me in the mail last October.
My neighbor who believes "If it ain't worth yelling, it ain't worth saying" and excercises that belief at all hours.
The fact that I was promised a job last fall that still hasn't started and have had to resort to starting the job hunt all over again.

Bam. I am a relatively calm person who has suddenly morphed into a madwoman attacking a Christmas tree with her bare hands. No gloves even, just me, tree and Le Tigre's Deceptacon blaring in the background. Think Edward Scissorhands meets Single White Female and you've got me violently snapping away with pine needles and tree dust flying all over. I'm sure there is some environmental group in San Francisco that would have me arrested for this.
But everyone gets mad and needs an outlet. Since there are no batting cages or rollercoasters in my neighborhood, this is actually working quite well. When I've finished, my tree looks like it just stumbled away from a nasty barfight. But most importantly, it's ready to be thrown away in a clean, responsible manner.
I can see the conversation tonight:
Husband: Oh, it's gone! You found the saw, then?
Me: No.
Husband: Then, how...?
Me: It doesn't matter.
mercredi, janvier 3
posted by Gina at 17:59

Most Parisians I know spend the New Year among friends, at home, and eating fine food until 4 am. This year, we went out. My favorite Dane Thilde came down from Copenhagen with her charming boyfriend Bjarke to celebrate with us Paris-style. It was my duty to find the party with the only request being that Thilde "wanted to know she was in Paris." Will a boat party by the Tour Eiffel do?
Between a good dinner and a nice party, we had a great weekend filled with interesting conversation on such subjects as:
The End of the Year speech by the Danish queen: A New Year's tradition for Danes is the speech given by Queen Margrethe II in which she talks about the events of the past year and goals for the new one. Her speech is televised nationally and broadcast over the internet for those abroad. Our friends said everyone watches it as they themselves huddled around Bjarke's phone to watch it online.
Danish cinema's pride and joy: Viggo Mortensen and two guys from Casino Royale. It seems in Copenhagen, movie goers watching the new James Bond flick cheered whenever the two Danish actors appeared on screen.
Rats: The disturbing tales of the rat infestation in Paris after the removal of the huge food market in Les Halles was beat by a story of rats in Beirut. After bombing leveled much of the city's buildings, desperate Lebanese rats had nowhere to go and ended up on the beach. When Bjarke was living there a few years ago, he was advised not to go to the beach after dark for danger of being attacked by rats. Curious, he passed by one night with a sandwich and threw a piece of food into the darkness. Although he couldn't see anything, he could hear the scuffle of vermin encircling whatever he threw. Makes you feel cozy, doesn't it?

After our New Year's party, we learned the metro line we needed to get home was closed. So we tried to find a taxi in Paris. On January 1. At 4 am. This is like saying we tried to find dog sledding Eskimos in East L.A. The ratio between cabs and homebound party goers is far from equal, but by some stroke of luck, we found one after 10 minutes of trying. Could this be the first sign of 2007 being a lucky year for us? Let's just assume so.