Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hot Thing One and Hot Thing Two

So there's this couple at school.  They're parents of one of Lucien's good friends and are both strikingly gorgeous.  Though fluent, they are not native French speakers.  Alex is unable to place their accent so we're not sure where they're from, but judging from the father's appearance, they're from somewhere dark-haired and manly.

The wife is not beautiful in a classic sense but she has an interestingly mesmerizing face that is fun to look at.  She has enviable style, too, and is always decked out in something cool.  Not Parisian fancy, just unique, like she can pull off cream-colored bell bottoms with orange cowboy boots.  

These mystery foreign people (I'll call them Hot Thing One and Hot Thing Two) have always been very friendly but for frustrating reasons I don't fully understand, I am unable to communicate with them.  I'm embarrassed to say it could be intimidation because of their exotic god and goddess-type looks, but regardless, every time they attempt a conversation with me, the dumbest things come out of my mouth.

It's been a year and a half of non-sequiters by MJ.  I can't remember them all but they're always something like this:

Hot Thing One:   Have a good day!
MJ:   Go sleep well and enjoy the purple!

or

Hot Thing Two:   Have a good vacation!
MJ:   I have two hands!  Pirates!

I am always so embarrassed when I walk away, I smack myself in the head and am pretty sure I taught Lucien the phrase, "I am such an asshole."  I used to complain about my issue to Alex and he'd make fun of me like, "Ooooh, Mr. Dad, Mr. Dad, you're so cute I can't talk..." but then one day I pointed them out at school with a quivering finger and Alex was like, "Oh. yeah, ok. I get it now."

We ran into Hot Thing One on the street during our walk home from the emergency room at Hotel Dieu and he kindly asked me what my native language was.  He asked it in such a strange, old-fashioned non-native French speaker kind of way, though, that I had no idea what he was saying so I just launched into a delightful tale of Lucien getting hit on the head with a wooden train.  Hot Thing One stared at me, mystified, until suddenly Alex piped up behind me, "Umm...to answer your question, she speaks English."

Just yesterday, I saw Hot Thing Two at the grocery store.  Lucien's on vacation from school and I'd gotten a babysitter for the morning so I could get some stuff done.  I saw her there in the aisle and almost turned around to run away but decided enough is enough; I must confront this. 

I brazenly walked right up to her and said hello.  She said hello and then asked if Lucien was at school?  I was silent for an uncomfortably long time then asked, "Wait, school?  Aren't they on vacation?  It's still vacation, right?  I have two hands!  Pirates!" 

She said slowly that she meant the centre de loisirs, which is a program for kids during all vacation periods, held at the schools.  Of course.  I knew that.  Everybody knows that.  I am an asshole.  I then proceeded to stand there silently for an awkward period of time trying to think of ways to explain my stupidity until she said, "Well, have a good day then!" and walked away.

I guess this is just the way it's going to be.  It's been well over a year and I just can't make it work so should probably surrender.  They still try to talk to me but I'm pretty sure it's out of morbid curiosity now.  They just have to know what ridiculous thing that strange woman is going to say next. 

As I mentioned, Lucien's on vacation from school.  He hasn't permitted me to sit down at the computer for more than five seconds without sticking his little face in front of mine and saying something like, "MOMMY LET'S PLAY TANKS LET'S DO REAL BIG FIGHTING!"  It's hard to resist his big grin and mouth covered in whatever chocolate something he pilfered while I was off changing Camille's diaper.  I always get up from the computer to fight him and I always win because I'm way bigger.

These vacation days are full of demands for parks, demands for snacks, demands for fighting with swords he cut out of my expensive photo paper.  He rarely demands I write the blog so that's the reason for the upcoming radio silence.

I'm not complaining.  I feel immense affection with a tinge of hysterical clinginess when it comes to the kids these days.  I'm overwhelmed with the changes I've seen in Lucien in just the past handful of months.  My crazy little boy is growing and changing into a mellow(er), well-behaved big boy and I can't believe how unhappy I am about it.  Isn't this what I wanted?  Being mama to this boy is a curiously confusing business.

We went to the Luxembourg Gardens over the weekend.  It was a beautiful autumn day and the air was just slightly chilly and smelled like leaves.  There were many, many groups of people doing tai-chi.  Some of them were doing something that looked like angry tai-chi because they had real swords.  Give your opinion in my quick poll -- "If a group of people were swinging around swords in a public park in the States, how long would it take for them to be shot?"   a.) one second  b.) 1.1 seconds  c.) is zero seconds possible?  Oh, this is delightful.  Everyone loves a fun poll!

 beautiful autumn non-sword tai chi

Shuffling through the leaves, I had the thought that if I could freeze the moment in time, I would.  I love where my kids are in their lives.  I love where Al is, all shaggy and cute, in his life.  I love where I am in my life except I wish I could whistle and break my habit of buying really cool clothes that look terrible on me.  I love autumn, especially in Paris and especially at the Luxembourg.

  
Ms. Cokes is not in agreement with Daddy's baby placement


We grabbed some galettes de sarrasin, buckwheat crepes, to take home for lunch.  There's something wonderful about watching a man fix a hot galette on a Paris street on a crisp, cool fall day.


The knowledge that this is our last autumn in Paris is making me weepy.  We're eventually going to come to the end of something spectacular and I don't know how I'll ever say goodbye.  Alex is probably going to have to drug me and throw me on the plane. Then I'll wake up in Seattle with our friends standing over me and I'll be like, "Auntie K, but it wasn't a dream!  You were there, too, and you and you, our weird friend dressed like a scarecrow!  What strange friends we have!"

Now I'm going to go sit on the couch and look at the kids and my Al, for I know they'll start bugging the hell out of me again tomorrow and the moment will pass.  But for now, it's MINE.

mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine

Al, I would still choose you over Hot Thing One.  (and not just because I can't talk to him and he thinks I'm crazy.)
MJ

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's super surprising there are strikes in France right now


France, France, France, what the hell are you up to now?  For those readers unaware, France is currenly shutting itself down.  The country that loves to strike is really givin' it her all with daily manifestations and ongoing disruptions in metro/big train/bus/airplane/car/boat/bobsled/tricycle/(and my personal preference) luge service. 

I hear they're going to disrupt walking service next.  Two out of three people will have to slither around on their bellies. If you forget to slither they will hit you over the head with a bullhorn and make fun of your shoes. 

The main issue sparking all the unrest is the upping of the retirement age from 60 to 62.  It's pissed off a whole bunch of people (who may or may not understand math) and they're expressing their discontent by refusing to do a bunch of stuff.  There are current gas shortages because no one's working the refineries or unloading the boats and rumored food shortages in the near future if this continues.

Just work your extra two years, dammit, Frenchies!  I need my Corn Flakes!

I admit to feeling jealous.  I wish I could strike.  I would love to be MOM ON STRIKE but -- let's be honest here -- it probably wouldn't look much different than me on a normal day.  I'd be like, "I'm going to fold even LESS laundry today!" and Alex would be like, "Man, I haven't seen my favorite t-shirt in like six months" and then I'd mumble, "It's been in the dryer since August. I sure do hate folding laundry."

So far the teachers haven't joined in the strikes.  If they join and I have both kids all day, no luge service and no Corn Flakes, THEN you're going to hear more from me on this.  For now, I'm going to sigh and feel sad for Alex, who must fight the grumpy, shoving hordes on his seriously reduced-service metro line twice a day. (and my friends, Virginia family, who had to cancel their trip to Spain due to fuel shortages. Virginia Mom is going to spend today giving protesters the finger as she slithers past them on her belly.)

So there have been more terrorist threats aimed at Paris.  Hang on, that wasn't the chipper segue I was looking for.  Let's try this again...

One of the reasons I love living in Paris is there is always something weird to do.  Last Saturday we walked over to Boulevard de la Bastille to check out the outdoor photography exhibit featuring toilets from around the world.  It sounded like a funny thing to do -- toilets!  ha ha ha! -- and one that Lucien would dig since he is firmly entrenched in his "everything poo poo-related is hilarious" phase.  Alex is also still in that phase so I figured it would entertain the two of them while Coco and I discussed loftier matters.


I was right.  Lucien thought the giant pictures of toilets were hilarious.  Especially this one:

Spiderman does a poo-poo!  (Loosh pronounces it like the French -- "Speederman")

What surprised us about the exhibit was the serious social commentary behind it.  Who would have thought dozens of photos of toilets would be so philosophical?  But they were, from this picture of the little boy using the toilet by flashlight after the tsunami (closest one)...


...to others of children hanging onto the sides of stalls jutting out over rivers in India, Prince Charles coming out of a port-a-potty, toilets in prisons, and toilets in some of the most desolate places in the world.  Have you ever wondered how a person does a poo poo in the middle of a frozen arctic wasteland?  Thanks to Paris, I no longer have to puzzle that problem.

We went thinking it would just be kinda weird and funny but we left with toilets on the brain for the rest of the day.  I like that kind of art -- the stuff that surprises you, sticks with you and makes you think for a long time afterward, even if it is about poo poo.

Toilets aside, how cute was Lucien pushing Camille in the stroller, even if he did almost push her into traffic several times?

We were invited over to a Frenchie couple's house for Sunday brunch last weekend.  I was super excited and practiced some French-speaking exercises in the mirror before we left.  It's hard to get that perfectly pursed-lip look when one complains about the quality of one's food and I wanted to get it just right. 

We took the train to Le Vesinet, one of the most affluent western suburbs of Paris.  Alex's co-worker, the incredibly laugh-y happy Matthieu, met us at the train station with his daughter to walk us over to their house. 

When I walked in and met his wife, Dominique, my first thought was, "Oh sh*t.  I am so not French."  She was impeccable.  I can't even describe what she was wearing because it was frustratingly perfect and made me, in my favorite jeans, white tunic and ballet flats look like I'd just rolled out of bed, or just had a baby, or just fell off a cliff, or whatever else results in one looking horribly unattractive and rumpled.

They served us a five-course brunch full of deliciousness and good wine.  We had a super grown-up Frenchie conversation about the works of Balzac because Matthieu and Dominique are big fans.  I tried NOT to mention I usually call him "Ballsack." Pick your audience, MJ, I whispered to myself as I clutched handfuls of tablecloth and tried to keep the words inside my mouth.  My brunch companions probably wondered why I  snorted out of nowhere and then nearly ripped the tablecoth off the table but they were too polite to mention it. 

Lucien initially scared the crap out of them with his Lucien-ness but after a couple bottles of wine, they thought he was funny and kept calling him over to give him cookies and ruffle his hair.  They were extremely affectionate with Coco and plucked her out of my lap regularly to give her squeezes.  They were both complimentary of and helpful with my French.  They were basically super nice people which is disappointing because I was hoping for some good fodder for the blog.

I didn't feel right taking a picture of them and posting it without their knowledge so I'm doing the next best thing -- taking a picture of their backs and posting it without their knowledge.  I think it still gets the point across. They're stylish people. (The backpack is not stylish but won him "good Dad" points -- it was full of his kids' park toys.) 


I must point out Dominique wore high-heeled black boots for our post-brunch walk in the park.  This is common in Paris.  She thus wisely sat out the impromptu soccer game Alex started with her son that involved the rest of us and quickly turned violent. 

Lets' go stock up on Corn Flakes, mes choux,
MJ

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Portugal The End -- I swear

Don't ever listen to me.  It was pointed out by commenter Jeffrey that even after all the forehead poking, I still got the Lisbon waiter's Portuguese lesson wrong.  It's not the thanked person's gender that matters; it's the thanker's.  I should have said Obrigada every single time because I am woman.  Waiter tried to school me but I refused to be schooled. 

Anyway, here's where Alex and I ended up after the giant penis rock:


We went to the beach -- Praia Grande, to be specific -- where we got a hotel room directly on the beach and commenced hours of staring at the ocean.  Alex accused me of just looking at the hot surfers (there were dozens) and I was like, "Huh?  What are you talking about?" and stuffed my camera back in my bag.  Don't show him the pictures I took because they pretty much all look like this:


I got caught up in a fisherman's line because I was distracted taking pictures of -- err -- the waves and didn't see the line cast from the pole planted in the sand.  I felt something wrapped around my legs but couldn't see anything.  I was spinning 'round and 'round trying to understand the problem when I noticed a fisherman waving his arms at me and pointing at the fishing pole.

I said something stupid like, "Heh heh, you caught me, heh heh!" and tried to disentangle myself.  I never had a strong opinion about it before, but it is now my firm belief fishing lines should be brightly colored and perhaps emit some sort of sound. 

Other than that, we spent a gorgeous day on the beach. 



oh goodness, how did he get in here?

That evening, we had a sunset drink on the bar patio before heading in to dinner.  Our server brought us some delicious Portuguese cheese and bread to accompany our wine.  She spoke only Portuguese but seemed to understand Alex's Spanish when he said she was very thoughtful to bring us cheese and bread.  She nodded and looked pleased.

We were surprised when she then brought us a large melon cut into slices.  It looked good, though, so we shrugged and ate it.  We were just getting up to head in to dinner when she came out carrying a second melon and sat it down on our table.  We stared at it, then at each other, then at her in confusion.  "How delightful!" Alex finally said. "Look, honey, she's brought us another melon!"  We sat back down and ate it because it seemed to be what was expected of us. 

I said to Alex, "Hey, Al, what's the word for 'melon' in Spanish because whatever it is, you're saying it and saying it a lot."  Alex insisted he hadn't mentioned melon but I felt suspicious when we went in for dinner and GAH! -- she was standing by our dinner table and there was a melon on it. She SMILED REALLY BIG and pointed at it.  She seemed to think we were going to be very happy about the proliferation of melon that had come suddenly into our lives.

 thank you?

From the second we sat down at dinner, I had the giggles (and the only cure was MORE MELON).  I spent the evening laughing hysterically at anything anyone said or did, sometimes with my napkin over my face.  Alex stared at me incredulously and said, "The bottom line is, you're even less suited for a romantic evening than I am."  It's true. There is not one ounce of romance in my body.

We ordered a couple glasses of port after the tasty, albeit melon-heavy, dinner.  The bottle of port was brought to our table and Alex turned it just slightly to read the label.  That was apparently the wrong thing to do because our port server came flying across the room ninja-like and said in English, "No shake bottle!  No shake bottle!"  Alex put his hands up in the air like he was under arrest.  The server cradled the bottle lovingly and told us to never shake a bottle of Port -- it will disturb the cinnamon. I put my napkin back over my face and laughed my ass off.

(I think the server meant "sediment" but it really doesn't matter.  I would have laughed my ass off either way.)

Alex protested he hadn't "shaken" the bottle but there was no calming the server down.  I'm pretty sure the Portuguese take their port seriously but that's fine since it's theirs and all.


disturbed cinnamon

When the bill came, there were three melons on it.  At that point I lost all self control.  Alex had to drag me out of the restaurant, across the floor by one arm, as I clutched my stomach and howled with laughter.  He claims he never wants to go out to dinner with me again but you know he can't stay away from the MJ.  Literally -- our apartment is super tiny.  

We went to Sintra the following morning on our way back to Lisbon.  Sintra is a fairytale looking town with a  castle perched way up high above it.  We did the hike up to the castle.  It was a fairly strenuous climb but not terrible and we were rewarded with incredible views and aloneness on the trail.

it's a crap picture but really, there's a castle up there

Al on the trail looking for melon

It was so windy up at the castle we were nearly blown off the wall many times.  That made it super exciting. 


As we left the castle, we overheard the castle guard having a little fun with an adorable elderly Italian woman.  He asked for her ticket in English.  She narrowed her eyes and said, "Teekit?"  He nodded and said yes, she needed a ticket to enter the castle.  If she didn't have hers, she needed to go back down to the bottom of the hill and buy one.  It wasn't true.  Al and I knew she could buy a ticket just ten steps further around the corner.

She obviously hadn't made the hike up from town but even the walk from the parking lot was several flights of stairs and she was winded.  She stared at the guard for a minute, the fury mounting in her face, then pointed her finger at him and said, "I KEEL YOU!" 

Al jumped in and told her the guard was messing with her and she could buy her ticket right around the corner.  Then we all had a laugh, the guard loudest of all.  I guess it gets boring standing at a castle door all day. 

On our way back down the hill, we saw a Portuguese family filling many water bottles at a public fountain.  We were thirsty so we cupped our hands and took a drink.  At that second, a British man appeared at our side and pointed at a sign above the fountain.  It said, "Agua nao controlada."  It was uncontrolled water.  We spent the rest of our time in Sintra wondering precisely when we were going to keel over and DIE.

 what a lovely and inviting public fountain

That's the sign up there over Alex's head.  We're not the most observant of people

We didn't die so we stopped to have a lovely lunch

I feel like I'm giving my Academy Award acceptance speech and the music has started to play.  Wrap it up, lady, wrap it up.  I guess I've indulged my vacation obsession long enough and it's time to get back to real life.  Here we go, double time!

We went back to Lisbon.  It was really cool.

Look at this guy on a horse.

This is Alex looking seductive and me looking utterly unseduceable.

This is a urinal.

These are many red roofs.

This is a surfer from Praia Grande. Well hello there, beautiful...

We spent some time wandering around the maze-like Alfama district.  It's a great place to wander and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The only problem was Alex started saying "That's a metaphor for life" after everything I said.

Me: (staring at map)  I think we're where we want to be but I'm not completely sure.
Al:  That's like a metaphor for life.

Me:  I don't know if I want a coffee or a beer.
Al:  That's a metaphor for life.

Me: Al, help me. I don't understand what this lady is saying. She seems angry and about to hit me.  She's shoving a carton of eggs into my hands. I don't want eggs. Can you try your Spanish and see if that helps?  Al?  Hello?
Al:  That's a metaphor for life.

Me: Take me back to my children.  I'm sick of you.


Lisbon is an atmospheric town but by the end of our trip, we were spent.  We also made the mistake of calling home and talking to Lucien with two days to go.  We hadn't missed the kids for one second up to that point but hearing his little boy voice on the phone asking if we were ever coming home choked us up in an annoying way.  So we went home and squeezed them both a lot. 

How did they behave with their grandparents?  They were angels.  Lucien was perfectly behaved at home and at school and Coco slept a bazillion hours and smiled all the time. They did NOTHING WRONG.

Those little punks.

Portugal.  You are mine.  We are one.  I will come back to you.
 

OK, I'm finished now,
MJ

P.S.  My in-laws are the best.
P.P.S. Next time I'm going to write about France because this place is nuts.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

An accurate summary

I saw these two works of graffiti in my neighborhood today. 
Together, I think they are a pretty good graphic representation of how I feel about living in Paris at this very second.




Swears and smiles -- the Paris hokey-pokey.  (that's what it's all about)
MJ

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Portugal Deux (Dois)

*knock knock*  It's me again and I'm coming in.

The laid back Portuguese people are startlingly aggressive drivers.  We didn't meet many others on the road, but when we did they were terrifying.  A car would zoom up behind us, tailgate for half a mile or so, then pass us on a blind turn.

When I saw a car coming behind us, I'd yell, "Defensive driving, Alex!  Defensive driving!"  Alex would start to say something like, "For the love of God woman, if you don't stop yelling and scaring the crap out of me...." but then he'd get distracted when he saw we were being passed by a little old lady going 90mph.

Our next stop was Marvao, a village of less than 300 residents perched up high along the Spanish border. It was so quiet as we wandered around the stunning yet deserted castle, Alex said many times, "This is creepy."  He decided to enhance the creepiness by going down these stairs into a big dark hole.  I did not follow because I do not wish to DIE. 


Marvao is a wonderful place but like so many tiny Portuguese villages, it's slowly fading away.  The majority of the population is elderly; most young people moved to bigger cities long ago.  The town depends on tourism, thanks to its fantastic castle and dramatic location, for much of its survival.  There aren't many tourists who make it out that far so when a few roll into town, the residents knock themselves out with friendliness.  No English but lots of smiles.
 

 



Marvao's castle and gardens are immaculately cared for but there are other obvious signs this is a town on the decline.

  
like these sad abandoned buildings begging me pitifully to love them

It gave the visit an air of sadness, of nostalgia, of better bygone times.  Alex and I don't like having sad feelings so we started drinking immediately at the local (only) watering hole.  We never claimed to be healthy people and we do not recommend other people adopt our lifestyle.

Our melancholy feelings were replaced by anger when we got into a fight.  Fighting when we're supposed to be on vacation is a side effect of living in a small Parisian apartment.  It is impossible to fight in our apartment; there's not enough space to fight without the kids overhearing unless we crouch down in the kitchen and whisper -- and what kind of a fight is that?  It's hard livin' for us because we believe wholeheartedly in the fight's cleansing abilities.  

So finding ourselves alone with no limit to the fighting time in front of us, we rubbed our hands with anticipation and let it all out like, "How DARE you do that thing you did, like six months ago, maybe?" and "I am angry at you for many things but I don't remember any of 'em."  It doesn't make for the most effective fight, saving it all up like this, but it's all we've got right now. 

The next morning (we also believe wholeheartedly in going to bed angry) we drove in silence to the beautiful town of Evora.  Within five minutes of parking the car and walking around, Alex grabbed my hand and we blubbered our emotional apologies.  "You're still a jerk but you're MY jerk and I love you!" Then we shared a very romantic kiss right in the middle of the square where all those nice people were burned during the Inquisition.  Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!


The square where lots of people met grisly ends.  I love Alex!

Our visit to Evora answered a question we'd always pondered -- what does one do with excess centuries-old aqueducts lying around one's city?  The answer is "live in them."  Adorable.  I would pay a lot of money for an aqueduct house.



Evora also answered another question we've always pondered.  What does one do with an excess of human bones lying around one's city?  The answer is "build a chapel with them" so some Franciscan monks can ponder death.  The inscription above the entrance to the famous Chapel of the Bones reads, "We bones here await yours" or something cheerful like that.

All bones, all the time

The two desiccated corpses hanging in the corner are of a man and child.  Legend has it that the man was a wife abuser who eventually beat his wife to death.  Before she died, she cursed her husband and child (who was apparently a very bad child) so when the man and boy died soon thereafter, the ground turned to stone and they were unable to be buried.  So the Franciscan monks took the bodies and hung them in the Chapel of the Bones as a warning against wife-beating.


 And the laughs just keep coming at the Chapel of the Bones!
   
Our favorite part of Evora was where we stayed, on a working farm right outside the city.  The Dutch couple who owns the farm rents out several small apartments behind the main house.  They had a late-night dinner party with a group of British friends the night we were there and we spied on them through the hedges on our apartment's patio.  I think they have a really happy life on their Portuguese farm.




We didn't have plans the next day.  We didn't know where we were going or where we were sleeping and it felt fantastic.  We hit the road going anywhere, but first stopped at the famed mysterious megalithic "Stone Circle" of Almendres, 500 to 1000 years older than Stonehenge.

First there was, ahem, this one.


Believe me, this is the only picture I can show you.  The rest got progressively more disrespectful of this rock's esteemed status as a thought-provoking megalithic phallus.  You don't even want to know what Alex did to this thing. 

The nearby circle of stones was much more impressive but less sexy.  Ninety-something stones arranged in an oval right around 4000 B.C., supposedly for astronomical study purposes but Alex and I are convinced it was for human sacrifice rituals.  The place was very cool but eerie.  It felt like the stones were waiting for us to go away so they could resume talking amongst themselves.

 I wish these yahoos would stop taking their "funny" pictures and piss off


*murmurs of agreement*


Then we were back on the open road.  A quick perusal of our trusty Lonely Planet guide and we knew exactly where we wanted to go...

OK, if you made it through yet another installment of, "Shut up I don't care about your stupid vacation," congratulations!  The bad news is I'm still all fired up for Portugal and will definitely have more to say later.
 
The problem with writing incessantly about Portugal is that life in Paris gets neglected.  Interesting stuff continues to happen around here.  For instance, yesterday Alex got caught up in a bomb scare at Notre Dame.  He was walking past just as the police and military showed up and cleared the area.  He was on the phone with me at the time.  I tried to remain calm but ended up shouting, "ALEX JUST GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE."  Man, I'm really not good at staying calm. 

Besides bombs, the other big news is Lucien's learning karate.  Our judgment has been questioned on this but so far it's a good thing.  He's the youngest in the class by almost two years but is holding his own quite well.  My favorite part is when he returns from class and says hello to me by bowing. 


Oh, and Ms. Cokes had a cupcake for her birthday.  A really fancy, really expensive cupcake from a Parisian cupcake shop.  It was her first taste of chocolate and she wasn't a big fan.

Good.  Because at over three euros a pop, she ain't getting any more

Stone phallus!
MJ

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