Thursday, January 27, 2011

January is a jerk

On Tuesday, the men who have been working on our building for almost seven months, the same men who take three-hour lunches every day (though I highly doubt those two things are related... wait...), painted the exterior of our building.  I guess it was secret painting because they didn't mention it, nor did they hang an informative sign in the narrow passageway just inside the street entrance. 

So of course, after somehow rubbing our bodies on the walls of our building,  both Lucien and I came home with white paint on the sleeves and backs of our jackets.  Before we realized what happened, we leaned against the walls of the elevator and painted them with our backs.  Someone is definitely going to come yell at us very soon. 

On Wednesday we awoke to heavy rainfall, both outside and inside our apartment.  There was a leak in the living room, directly above our television, which also happens to be above a watercolor I bought at a gallery down the street and love more than coffee and beer combined.  When Alex saw water on his television and I saw water dripping off my watercolor, we taught the kids some new four-letter words.  Then, disoriented and still partially asleep, we stumbled around ineffectively with buckets and towels. 

Soon thereafter we saw the construction workers, the "men who lunch" if you will, scrambling up the scaffolding like panicked monkeys -- there's the hustle we've been looking for, guys! -- and emptying tarps filled with water into the middle of the courtyard.  I guess the tarps were funneling large quantities of water straight into the nooks and crannies of our building and everyone had water coming into their apartments. Hot damn, I love me some January!

Our cleaning lady came later that morning so I left her with Camille and took Lucien out for hot chocolate at a nearby cafe.  We would have had a good time except we had waiter issues -- as in, our waiter decided he didn't want to wait on us anymore and disappeared into the waiter protection program.  I had to approach the crabby man behind the bar several times; every time I got close, he snapped at me to talk to my waiter.  I asked him if he had my waiter's contact info?  Maybe I could send him an email requesting the bill?

I paid the crabby man behind the bar against his will.  As we left the cafe, a young man who was paying more attention to his cell phone than what was actually happening in his life ran into Lucien and knocked his newly purchased Scooby Doo magazine into a large puddle.  The man didn't apologize, just kept walking as Lucien sadly fished the soggy mess out of the gutter.  January asshat!

Then we went to the bank to deposit some checks and encountered a sign on the front door declaring a fermeture exceptionnelle!  This basically means they closed the bank when the bank is usually open for no discernible reason.  Lucien and I stood staring at the door with rain dripping off the fronts of our hoods and thought about happier times, like that one time the bank was open last year. 

We took our favorite scenic route home, down a pretty old historic cobblestone street, in an effort to cheer ourselves.  A man in front of us twisted his ankle on the uneven cobblestones and yelled, "MERDE!  MERDE!  MERDE!" lots of times.  He swung his arms around and turned bright red so Lucien and I quickly backed away.  It's a Paris version of road rage -- walking-on-uneven-cobblestone rage --and it's violent and ugly.  You don't want to get caught up in that. 

We returned home to find our cleaning lady wrestling on the floor with the vacuum cleaner and muttering something about a small lady being stuck inside.  "Great," I thought.  "On top of everything, now the cleaning lady's gone and lost her damn mind in the living room."  But no, she was speaking the truth; Fisher Price grandma was stuck in the vacuum hose.  We took turns trying to free her with an assortment of knives and wire hangers.  We finally succeeded and it was the happiest thing to happen all day.

After all that nonsense, I locked the front door and told the children we would not be leaving again because "Paris is hostile today" and it wasn't safe out there.  They nodded gravely then immediately began battering each other about the heads in boredom.  

It was all just a normal ole Wednesday in January.  Stay far, far away from here.  People are not well. 

(Even though I had a crap day, Virginia Mom had an awesome day.  She and a couple friends wandered into a cafe and -- voila! -- ended up having coffee with Gerard Depardieu.  Strange, magical things still happen here. (Is Gerard Depardieu magical? maybe that's the wrong word.)  Anyway, I must keep the Paris faith.

P.S.  Update:  The "men who lunch" hung "wet paint" signs today.  They painted two days ago.  The paint is no longer wet.  I don't know what's going on.   

Run away, Paris hostile!
MJ

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bottomless death spiral of negativity

So that flu thing sucked but I'm feeling better and ready to get back to livin'.

When you're sick in Paris, and stuck in a downward negativity spiral, you tend to notice only the things you hate about this place.  Like how nobody smiles around here.  Like how people blow cigarette smoke in your face on the street and later try to run you over with their car.  Like how people regularly stop abruptly in your path for no darn good reason, then make you work really hard to get around them, but only if you're in a hurry. 

As you circle the drain in this self-pitying downward spiral, there will be good around you, too, but you won't notice it.  For instance, it's only now sinking in that at school pick-up Tuesday, a very kind Frenchie mama noticed my "hit by a bus" look and asked if I needed any help while I was sick.  That was very nice of her.  I wonder what would have happened if I'd said, "HELL YES can you come cook our dinner and wash Lucien's backside and fold Alex's unmentionables?"

Then on Thursday, I opened our front door to see a small woman standing on the sidewalk smiling at me.  Her face was one big continuous wrinkle; she was either very elderly or part shar-pei.  She was also incredibly short, which, again, is it age or shar-pei?  nobody knows...

I smiled back at her and held the door open behind me, asking if she was entering the building?  She smiled even bigger and said nope, she was just looking at me and thought I needed a smile.  (The American in me:  Awww, that's sweet.  The Parisian in me:  Are you trying to steal my handbag, shar-pei lady?)  Whatever her reason, she was a cute, wrinkly little thing and I wish I'd been coherent enough to give her a bear hug.

In the midst of my negativity spiral, one overwhelmingly positive thing happened, something big enough to temporarily warm my cold, hard self.  This little boy, my son, my heart --

 -- he turned five this weekend.

Lucien. The kid who's aged me twenty years in the past five, the kid who makes me throw my arms up regularly and scream at the heavens, "REALLY?  YOU GAVE ME THIS ONE??, the kid who's always plotting something creatively destructive, the kid who cracks me up even as I'm trying to sell him on Ebay, my favorite boy in the world -- he turned five.  And then my heart exploded with love and I died.  The end. 


Lucien wanted a big birthday party this year but unfortunately for him, I'm his mother and I've never been further from planning a birthday party than I've been in the past few weeks.  He'll survive the disappointment and I'll survive the guilt. 

I spent the evening before his birthday hanging an overwhelmingly large birthday banner in the kitchen and blowing up balloons made of steel.  I don't think I've ever had more difficulty blowing up balloons; they seemed to be made of a non-stretchy substance with an opening impervious to air.  After an hour of strenuous effort, I'd only blown up three and passed out several times.  He may not have had a party, but don't tell me I wasn't committed to this boy's birthday.

On the big day, we rallied our friends, Virginia Family, and spent the morning together at Cité des Enfants.  That place is like catnip for kids (kidnip).  As soon as youngsters walk through the front doors, they lose their frickin' minds.  By the end of the timed session, the parents have lost their minds, too, but in a different way.



We had lunch afterward at Hippopotamus, a horrible Americanized restaurant specializing in near-raw burgers (the French don't like to cook their meat) and fries.  The staff  brought Lucien a dessert with a candle stuck in it and sang Joyeux Anniversaire to him.  There was a play room, which was awesome until the manager admonished our children for playing too loudly.  By golly, it's just not a day around here until a French person yells at us. 

The manager said there were people in the restaurant trying to eat their raw hamburgers in peace, which begs the question -- what kind of ass moron comes to Hippopotamus expecting to eat a meal in peace?  That's like me and Al choosing Chuckie Cheese for date night and expecting a romantic evening free of animatronics. Sorry, peeps, but if you're dumb enough to choose Hippopotamus over every other restaurant in Paris, you deserve what's coming to you.

That evening, Alex went all out for Lucien's specially requested birthday dinner -- hot dogs.  He ordered fancy hot dogs at a restaurant down the street.  They came wrapped in baguettes and were smothered in several kinds of cheese.  Lucien took one look at his and said, "That's not a hot dog."  Alex looked like a sad dad; he'd been super excited about his fancy hot dog procurement, but turns out Lucien is a purist.


I guess now's as good a time as any to break the news.  We've notified family and some friends and they've now given up all hope of seeing us ever again because.... we're once again extending our stay in Paris.  Alex has been asked to head up a pretty cool project at work, so our initial two-year commitment just turned into a three-year, and we won't be back in the U.S of A until the end of 2011.  How do I feel about it?  Depends on the day.  Hell, it depends on the minute.  Let's just say the bottomless spiral of negativity didn't come at the best time.

Health returns and Lucien's five and I'm never, ever getting out of here!  Hot damn we're on a roll!
MJ

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It happened so quickly

Sunday was beautiful.  It was warm for January, sunny and crisp. We met our friends Michael, Sophie and their two boys at the Luxembourg to ride the ponies.  It would have been more awesome if, instead of ponies, they'd been hippos.  Or snow leopards. 

 not a snow leopard

It was a gorgeous day.  I was coughing a lot and knew a cold was coming, but we were finally on the other side of jet lag and quite optimistic about our future.  But later that evening, as I sat beside Alex on the couch, I had a horrible, horrible feeling.  "Alex," I said, "This is no cold. This is the flu."  Alex said something loving like, "Oh God, then stay away from me," and ran into the kitchen to take many vitamins.

Two hours later, I was certain I would never, ever feel OK ever again.  I was up all night shivering, then sweating, shivering, sweating, all while working hard to cough both lungs out of my chest.  In the morning, after Alex took Lucien to his daily soul crushing session at preschool, I collapsed on the inflatable mattress in the living room.  Coco thought this was great.  She spent her day smooshing her face against mine (she likes to "kiss" a lot).  In my feverish stupor, I saw her chubby face and big eyes come towards me slowly and repeatedly.  It may have been Coco's favorite day ever -- kissing all day long with no resistance.

 nom nom nom

Our building's resurfacing project is still happening.  It's been six months of scaffolding and men walking around outside our fourth-floor windows.  It doesn't usually bother me, but it bothered me Monday afternoon when I woke up and saw I had an audience in the form of two painter guys standing at the windows.

They avoided eye contact.  I think they were embarrassed for me. Can't imagine why -- I was a sprawled out, sweaty, splotchy mess wearing a holey pair of sweat pants and an old white t-shirt that can best be described as "kinda sheer."  (When mama's sick, she's sick all sexy-like.)

It hasn't been a triumphant return.  It's been a miserable return.  I guess what I'm saying is, even though I'm starting to feel more human, it's going to be awhile before I get my sh*t together again.  Wait for me, posse. 

Hippos really woulda been somethin'.
MJ

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"You People"

Jet lag winning, MJ losing.  I was up all night a couple nights ago.  Can't even blame the kids, just me and my screwed up body.  I bounced manically from room to room all night, spooning various family members and reading my Kindle until the battery died and left me all alone in this big, dark world.  Then I stared at Lucien six inches from his face like a hopeful puppy, silently willing him to wake up and play with me so I'd have something to do.

Anyway, Happy Two Years to us!  Two years ago on New Years Day, we arrived in Paris.  Alex and I celebrated the anniversary by hugging each other a lot at his family's annual New Years Day party. One of Alex's cousins noticed all the hugging and asked what kind of effect the move to France had on our relationship.  He obviously expected a happy response, again because of all the hugging, so he looked surprised when Al and I started laughing maniacally, pantomiming acts of strangulation and trying to gasp out the words, "I wanted to kill him/her!"

We were told by a friend before we moved to Paris, a friend who lived abroad for two years with his family, that an international move can beat the crap out of a relationship.  He said ominous things like, "If you have any small cracks in your marriage, they will become crevasses." We thought he was just being dramatic, but nope, right on. 

There's certainly a sense of camaraderie when you move abroad, sure, but anything that drives you nuts about the other person is magnified a hundred fold as you navigate foreign life.  It's kind of like doing a home improvement project together, but bigger and longer and in another language.  And you can't escape from the project and go blow off some steam with your friends at a bar, either, because you don't have any friends and beers at the bar are ten bucks apiece.

Al and I had some hard times that first year -- we now remember fondly the time I announced I was leaving Paris immediately and going to live in my parents' basement.  Then I waddled in my very pregnant state to the bedroom where I couldn't reach my suitcase.  I've always had a flair for the dramatically lame.

Anyway, after we stopped describing to Al's cousin all the times we'd wanted to maim each other, Alex threw his arms around me again and declared us, "a muscle."  When you tear a muscle, it hurts like hell, but when it heals, it's stronger than it was before.  We have no idea if this is really true about muscles, but we sold his family on the adorable torn muscle imagery then rolled under the table to make out. 

 we're not perfect, but we do all right

In my continuing series on why I hate air travel, our flight from Quebec to Chicago, the first leg of our trip to Denver, was canceled.  The airline lied to us about why but that's a whole other story.  The only option available to us, thanks to the high volume post-holiday traffic, was to take a flight to Montreal that evening, stay at a hotel, and fly to Denver the following morning.  I wanted to shake the airline by its delicate shoulders in anger; our three full days in Denver had been whittled down to two --  a blink of an eye in Colorado when I missed my family so, so much. 

Remember the prop plane we took to Bath for Thanksgiving?  That was a jumbo jet compared to the plane we boarded for the hop from Quebec City to Montreal.  It only had eight rows.  And there were propellers involved.  And that's all I'm going to say about that. *rocks back and forth, rocks back and forth*

We eventually arrived in beautiful, wide-open, blue-sky Colorado and I was an American Mom in America again.  My parents live in a fantastic community outside Denver, a community that embraces the natural beauty of Colorado, where natural landscaping reigns and wild animals wander all over the place.  You are in constant danger of being eaten by a bear or humped by a deer in heat.  We love it there, so peaceful. 

Grandma and Grandpa's backyard.  A person can BREATHE out here.  Actually, it's pretty hard to breathe out here with the high elevation and lack of oxygen but you know what I mean.

What's not great about my parents' neighborhood is most of their shopping has to be done in a less natural area of suburbia, a more bleached-blond, long-fingernailed, designer handbag kind of area.  It's never bothered me before, but something about living in Paris has made me allergic to American suburbs.

(Part of the reason was I got caught up in the middle of a handbag ogle-fest at a suburban Victoria's Secret.  I just wanted some underwear at 50% off but instead found myself in the middle of a group of women puttin' on airs and trying to impress each other in loud voices so the whole damn store could hear them -- "Oh my GAWD, are you carrying a so-n-so?"  People in Paris enjoy their nice things, but you never see such naked displays of bragging and fawning.  And squealing, there's no squealing in Paris.)

Alex abandoned me in Victoria's Secret.  He did his best to hang in there, but every time he wandered even a few feet away from me, the saleswomen talked to him and that freaked him out because he did not wish to discuss his wife's underthings with strangers.  He finally ran past me with a handful of underwear and threw them at my face as he scooted out the door, saying, "Oh my God, they won't stop talking to me.  Why are they talking to me?  I'm a guy in Victoria's Secret and I..."  I didn't catch the rest of his sentence because he was already out the door and halfway to the man safety zone of The Apple Store.

I caught up with him later and we went into American Eagle.  That's when things got weird.  We bought Al some socks and the lady asked for our phone number at the cash register.  I told her we didn't live in the country, did she still want our number?  She said no and then, of course, asked what country we lived in and I, of course, said "France."  And then this happened:

AE girl:  Is American Eagle popular down there?
MJ:  Errr... I don't think so.
AE girl:  Oh, probably because it says "American" in the name, huh?
MJ:  Uh....no, no, I just don't think it's the style in Paris (thinking, "your clothes make people look like lumberjacks.")
AE Girl:  Yeah... you people.  You people really don't like our kind down there.

Pause. OK, there are several things wrong with that last sentence:

1.)  "YOU PEOPLE?"  "YOU PEOPLE?"  I AM your people, dumb dumb.  What, exactly, about me says "I'm French?"  Is it my accentless English?  The fact I just told you I'm in town visiting my family?  The lack of baguette in my mouth?  Jesus, I'm not even wearing a scarf.
2.)  The French like "our kind" just fine as long as you're not an asshole.  
3.)  "Down there?" We live in France, not Mexico, idiot.  It's "over-and-a little-up" there.

It was a jarring experience, being offended by my countrywoman but not being sure why, exactly.  We walked out a little disturbed, then really lost it when we went to a fast food restaurant and it moved too fast for us.  We got sighed and huffed at by the lady behind the counter because we were taking too long.  We quickly retreated from suburbia and hid at my parents' place.  My parents' place is heaven.  They have really nice non-bleached blond neighbors, and lots of Legos.

There's just something about Legos. 


 It's OK, Jude.  We can't all be gifted with Legos.

I honestly don't have words to describe what it was like to be with my family again, the family that had me busting a gut with laughter within minutes of walking through the door.  I love you guys, you strange, lovable, funny group of people.

 My dad is a very talented landscape photographer.  He has some work in a gallery.  Let me know if you want to buy all of it.

 My mom is a very talented musician and plays a bunch of strange-looking instruments.  Let me know if you want to buy her.

My mom also makes an awesome ribbon jello.  (We're from Ohio.)

 Grandma and Grandpa indulge all of Lucien's weird ideas

 Miss you


My family, I'm sorry I live way down here in France,
MJ

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Return

If I didn't have kids, I'd be sleeping right now.  I've said that a lot over the years but it's especially, painfully true tonight.  It's past midnight here in Paris but Lucien and Camille are sitting on the kitchen floor sharing a baguette and fighting over a choo-choo like it's a normal ole afternoon.  Al and I have slept only a handful of hours in the past 48.  Jetlag is our Christmas present from the devil.

The red-eye flight from Quebec was bad.  The kids were great and slept through most of it, but we encountered the roughest turbulence I've ever experienced.  Forty-five minutes of shimmying, shaking, bouncing-up-n-down terror over the Atlantic Ocean.  Several passengers close to us became afflicted with the air sickness and promptly threw up all over themselves.  The flight attendants were not allowed to get up and help the vomit-covered, lest they become flight attendant projectiles.  Have I mentioned how much I hate flying?

We splurged on a private car to pick us up at the airport, help with our three tons of bags, and drive us home.  It was the best money we've ever spent.  We walked into our apartment and the first thing we asked each other was, "Was our place always this old?"  Our building circa 1670 looks weird after three weeks of modernity.

So three weeks, six planes, and many golden family memories later, we're back in the 75006.   I would say it's good to be back, but feeling as zombie-like as I do, it's not really good to be anywhere. There's no food in the house, only condiments.  Something has gone horribly wrong in our refrigerator judging by the smell emanating from it but I'm unable to find the offensive item. There are small mountains of laundry decorating the apartment and there probably will be forever more. Re-entry after vacation often feels like a punch in the nose.


It was worth it.

I can't string many words together right now but hope to in the next few days. I just wanted to pop in here and let you know that even though that last one tried really hard, none of the six planes killed me.

Jetlag should be a four-letter word. Jlag.
MJ

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