mardi, mars 27
posted by Gina at 07:45

I had to take the RER B last week, and had the good fortune to do so when the transportation folks called a strike, meaning there was one train running for every three. Even better, I ended up taking the train at rush hour. I boarded several stations away from the transportation hub that is Gare du Nord and it was already packed. Standing passengers were packed in so tight that chests were mashed into shoulders and strangers' faces were close enough to kiss. Those who couldn't even reach a pole to stabilize themselves found that they could lift their feet from the ground and still stay in place. I was pushed backfirst into an older woman still seated on one of the fold out chairs on the standing area of the train. I knew my backside must be brushing her head but couldn't move out of my knee-bent, spine-cocked-to-the side position. It was stuffy. People smelled bad. Then we arrived at the next station.
People waiting to board looked up at our train in horror, realizing they had to either squish in with us or wait in the cold until God knows when and another train would arrive. Suddenly, the RER train turned into a Titanic lifeboat with people shamelessly pushing eachother out of the way to board. Shouts of protests went ignored and two men bickered about who pushed who and as the doors closed, they were forced to argue for the next 20 minutes compressed together in what could only be described as hugging.
When we rolled into Gare du Nord, my back muscles were cramping and I was sitting on said old lady's shoulders, which were stronger than I'd have thought. I was facing away from the platform and to my right I heard "Oh la la..." and then to my left I heard "Oh la la..." Then, I turned and seeing the sight, I gasped "Oh la la!" Gare du Nord was a group of Titanic lifeboats with an endless sea of people scrambling over each other to cram into the already over capacity trains. After I got out and readjusted my spine, I knew I couldn't be mad at the masses of people agressively forcing themselves on board. The people I could be mad at were the SNCF workers on strike. No one seems to find it ridiculous that they strike so much. A friend gave us a print out of the SNCF's "grievous" working conditions after a big strike last year. I've shared this with some of you before, but for those who haven't seen it, check it out. I translated it from French so if it sounds funny, that's why.

-Starting salary: 2,200€ to 3,200€ monthly (1 Euro is about $1.20)
-Free healthcare: Covered 100 percent at 15,900 medical centers
-Retirement at age 50, sans commentaire
-End of year bonus
-All kinds of bonuses, including one that translates to charcoal bonus...? Maybe for the BBQ's they have with all that downtime?
-Free transportation for employees and their families
The SNCF represents 1 percent of employees in France, yet their workers account for 20 percent of days on strike among all strikes in France. And in France, that's saying something. Add that I read this right after reading about rickshaws being banned in Calcutta, leaving rickshawers complaining about no longer getting those 17 cents a day to support their families. Whatever happened to perspective? Something to ponder the next time I find myself on an overcrowded train sitting on top of some old lady's shoulders.
mercredi, mars 21
posted by Gina at 07:41

Zaza, merci d'être géniale comme tu es. Tu m'offre des petits cadeaux sans raison. Dans les soirées où tout le monde parle du boulot, tu n'oublies pas que, pour moi, vous parlez chinois. Et bientôt, tu vas nous ammener dans un hélico sur New York. Je te kiffe! Joyeux anniversaire encore à la meillure belle-soeur du monde.

The biggest birthday party of the year (so far) went down last Saturday at the best restaurant in town, le 24, with the hosts not disappointing. Think excellent food, good music, a bottle of champagne a head and a generous afterhours bar. I'd have taken photos of the brunch the following afternoon, but I think that'd be mean to do to a crowd that stumbled home at 6am.

samedi, mars 17
posted by Gina at 13:22

I'm in the snack car of the Eurostar train shooting back to Paris. We were among many who made the trip from Paris to London this weekend, though unlike the rest, we'd just gone for a little weekend fun, and not for the England/France rugby match. We're waiting to buy our overpriced train food surrounded by a group of drunken French rugby fans, whose only English acquired over the weekend seems to be "blowjob". Judging by their charm, I'm guessing their team isn't the only one who didn't score this weekend. Luckily, our time in London was spent without their presence.
Most of my weekend was spent sandwiched between Zaza and Jean-Jean in a cab facing my husband. From the first pickup at Waterloo, the French trio fell in love with London taxis and somehow reasoned it always made more economic and logistical sense to take a taxi rather than buses or the tube. And for the times when there was no economic sense to a £10 cab ride, it just boiled down to "Mais ils sont trop chouette, les taxis de Londres!"
The French expression most used with London translates to "it costs the skin off your ass." And how. We went with a decent hotel, myself remembering the last time I tried to get a deal in Londonian lodging. It was only £10 a night and involved sharing a room with a grouchy aborigine woman who cooked chicken next to her bed. History was not to repeat itself.
Our first pint was in a crowded pub where the only nearly available table for four was occupied by a passed out man, who'd either come alone or was abandonded by his pals. Zaza and I weren't ready to squeeze in next to him, so we stood at the bar, where Husband and Jean-Jean gleefully discovered that smoking is still legal in London pubs. I thought it had already been banned, but it seems they've got until July to light up and share the love.
Now, a word on style. Coming out of the black and grey everyone always wears in Paris winters, landing in London is like stepping into Oz. An Oz where the locals are walking around in blue leggings matched with silver tops or red and gold shoes paired up with black and white print dresses. In the words of De La Soul "You get an E for effort and a T for nice try."
How is it that the city that produced the likes of Bella Freud and Plum Sykes could also be home to so many girls that seem to combine outfit assembly with the overconsumption of alcohol? Leicester Square on a Saturday night has London girls bar hopping in lycra minidresses and plexi glass heels. Or shirt dresses (that might actually just be shirts) and pumps. Coats would have covered too much, although it was ridiculously cold outside and we were shivering in our coats and scarves.
The irony is that there's excellent clothes to be found here. Not to mention the vintage shops. Treated ourselves to eye candy at Karen Millen. Her boutique inside Galeries Lafayette is delicious enough but her store in Covent Garden had a whole other equally enjoyable collection.
Reasons to go back: we didn't get a chance to stop by Liberty or meet my former roomate/favorite Englishman for a drink. Eurostar is advertising roundtrip tickets right at 66€ a pop, so maybe it will be sooner rather than later.
jeudi, mars 8
posted by Gina at 16:14

If my apartment building were a soccer game, my neighbors would have a big fat red card by now. After moving into their 400 square foot studio, they bought a dog and two cats and consequently spend their time at home yelling at their pets for making messes. When they're not yelling at the animals, they're yelling at eachother. We're sick of hearing them fight... or even worse, reconciling. And then there's their love of hardcore industrial techno that they wish to share with everyone in the Paris region.
As for us, we're off to London for the weekend where I hope to do such British things as have a curry and take my A-levels and meet friends for a cuppa. Oh- and pepper my conversations with "that's brill!"
In the meantime, we're thinking of pushing our speakers against the wall we share with said neighbors and putting a cd on repeat all weekend while we're gone. Possibilities are:
Linda Ronstadt's Canciones de Mi Padre- Mariachi till your ears bleed!
Vive La Fête's Attaque Surprise- This punk electro album is great and has a song where the leadsinger belts out several blood curdling screams.
Bob Dylan's Rainy Day Women- Ok, not an album, just the one song. I think it could drive one crazy after two days straight, don't you?
Log on now and cast your votes!
samedi, mars 3
posted by Gina at 09:45

Paris has been under the spell of fashion week these last few days. You still get a healthy dose of fashion here even if you aren't in the club that received invitations to the shows at Tuileries and la Sorbonne. Walking past Printemps the other day, I got a interesting take on it. I'm all for originality but what is with the windows of their mens department?

Take this look for example: A man's suit softened by flowy blouses. It's a man dressed like a woman who's dressed like a man. Cross-cross dressing, if you will.

Or this one, for the man who sips apple juice out of a little box and has his lady cut his meat for him.

Then there's this guy. Yes, it's just a vest he's got on. And yes, if it was in gold, it would just be a stolen costume from a production of Chorus Line.

I can appreciate the challenge of creating new menswear with the limitations of wearability. There's only so many things you can get men to wear, right? And you've still got to do what the others aren't doing. But has it really come to the point where we need this?
vendredi, mars 2
posted by Gina at 18:06

Well, actually, of course you can hurt me. But I'll be covered for it!
After many grueling trips to consult the old trolls at the Securité Sociale office near my house, I've finally completed my dossier and should soon have the coveted carte vitale, that little green card, the key to medical coverage in France, that everyone but me has here.
I've been to the Secu office approximately 5 times to ask the same question. How do I proceed to enroll myself in the system after finding a job? Before being an employee, I was just under Husband's social security and was partially covered for medical care. Now that I've got a job, I'm in it on my own and am good to go- once I've got my own file. Everytime I've gone in to inquire on the procedure, someone on the staff gives me a detailed explanation. Problem is, it's never the same one.
Trip #1 It was explained to me that I must get a job and then come back with a written work promise and complete the dossier before I start work. That evening, a friend of a friend said that sounded odd. This led me to...
Trip # 2 I must get a job, hand in my information after I start working and have my employer send in my work promise to another office.
Trips #3-5 Different variations on the first two explanations saying the same things but of course, with major contradictions.
And then there was the version that my employer gave me. You guessed it- not the same story, either.
But today, on receiving my first paycheck, I took the dreaded trip to the office of hell, armed with every document on my checklist, wondering what I'd do if I was told that I really did have to bring everything in before I started my job. I took a number sat in the waiting area as my chest constricted in tension (ironically, frequent trips here are bad for your health). The woman calling out the numbers barked at the unassuming victim in front of me.
"No, madame. This paperwork is not what we asked for! No, it's not done like that! You must come back with this and this!"
When it was my turn, she kindly directed me to another colleague for further assistance. "I'm not the one who handles this! You sit back down and wait for one of the booths to open!"
When one of the booths that line the office did open, a woman with a surprisingly kind demeanor called me over. In fact, while the other employees walked around on hooved feet, dragging their tails, I swear this woman had wings and a halo.
She actually smiled when she asked for my paperwork and even made photocopies of my payslip, which I'd forgotten to do. After a quick 2 minutes, she smiled again and said "C'est bon." And it was over. And I don't have to come back.
Soon I can go to the doctor, get get checked out, flash my little green card and magically be reimbursed. It's enough to make me want to become a hypochondriac.