Monday, December 24, 2007

A Heathrow Holiday

Writing in an airport isn’t as romantic as I pictured it. I’ve been in airports many times recently and the charm of flying itself sort of wore off some time ago, but just a day or two ago I pictured myself click-clicking away on my laptop aboard the airplane; perhaps in a well-fitting retro suit...perhaps everyone in a well-fitting retro suit. The stewardess in her orange and white funky uniform would offer me a strong coffee but with a simple raise of my hand she’d know that I was too engrossed in my writing. There’s no room on my tray table for distractions. This would only make the other passengers near me more interested in what I was writing, but they wouldn’t dare directly ask me, instead they’d whisper to each other possible theories of what publication I wrote for. Time? Esquire? Cat Fancy?

Instead of a retro suit I’m wearing an H&M plaid shirt I’ve had for years, an oversized knitted cap to hide my unwashed hair. On top of my hobo-chic ensemble the all-nighter I pulled last night: packing, cleaning, and finishing up last minute details of my Parisian home-life, has given me a glossy-eyed, sloth like appearance. The plane from Paris to London was too short to take a proper nap so instead I’d fight my body’s inclinations to pass out. I thought sitting by the window seat would help me sleep comfortably but instead my head would bob, succumbing to slumber but would instantly smack against the hard plastic wall jolting me awake. This little mid-air head banging session continued until I had a small plastic cup of orange juice to distract my body. Instead of wondering if I was a glamorous writer the two Indian gentlemen next to me might have wondered if I was an unstable hermit or a masochist.

If one is looking for the least Christmassy place in the world I’d add the international connections terminal of Heathrow airport to the list of suspects. Instead of a holiday spirit there is an air of incompetence still looming from the approximately 1,000 stranded passengers from last night. Every employee is playing the role of the Grinch in this play. As I type the only sign of Christmas décor is a woman waiting in one of many long lines decked out in a cheap sequined Santa Claus outfit that makes me think for of festive stripper routines rather than season’s greetings. The woman has now boarded a plan for Hong Kong. Ho Ho Hong Kong. It would be amazing if my Christmas eve was spent in truly festive areas because with the lack of sleep, multiple time changes and random naps I feel as if this day could end up being 72 hours long. Stepping into my terminal after the trip from Paris I was desperate to wake myself up and stretch my legs so I decided to do some light Christmas and layover entertainment shopping. I only have Euros so I justified picking up a few extra things so I could pay with my credit card. It’s been a rough 36 hours without a coca-cola so I grabbed that first, then some Cadbury Dark chocolate for my family, both of which were an attractive shade of dark red and black. I wasn’t hungry but perused the semi-refrigerated section of sandwiches; many featured strange British ingredients that seemed mildly unfit for consumption but I chose one of the more pricey ones because it was labled as a special “Christmas Sandwhich” choice and I won’t lie, it matched my other purchased really, really well. The woman at the checkout didn’t appreciate my color oriented shopping and the credit card machine “wasn’t down but is taking a bloody long time today for Christ’s sake!” Even near his Birthday Jesus gets no slack. After about 3 minutes a Heathrow typical line formed behind me; now everyone was wondering how bad the masochistic hobo’s credit is.

The fact that there was meat stuffing inside my sandwich could be seen as the red and green frosting on top of the strangest, saddest Christmas eve ever but I’m still a bit jolly. Besides the fact that I love meat and will eat anything with the word stuffing in it: I’ve got an 8 hour plane ride ahead of me and one more Tylenol PM, I’ll see all my family together again in a house with wireless internet, a stove AND a dryer, and it’s the first Christmas eve where I have all my presents to wrap at once. My excitement at the idea of having a present wrapping marathon in front of the TV or in my room listening to music on my external speakers has made me so giddy that some people in Paris have even told me I talk about an odd amount of time. I suppose the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” wasn’t entirely meant to apply to the act of wrapping presents but in the context of my life it may be the only application. Being away from my job at the store where wrapping can become a competitive art form and being in a situation where I’ve been buying presents since September has made me craving for a good clean wrap job borderline drug like. I’ll scramble into my room and press the scotch tape against my nose, roll around on the tubes of festive wrap and curl ribbon until my fingers are pink and puffy.

The last few emails from my mom have ended with “after this I’m gonna start backing cookies!!!!!!” so I’m sort of expecting to not come back to a home so much as large gingerbread house. I’m entirely okay with this as long as we still have wi-fi. Gumdrop wi-fi. There is so much and maybe too much I’ll miss from Paris but there were always things missing. It will be nice to be in a place where people know I can speak at least one proper language, am not homeless, can pay in more than one way at a grocery store and have enough credit to purchase the bittersweet chocolate that makes up my Gingerbread home.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lessons In Public Transportation from Brussels

Perhaps it’s not well known but my love of public transportation, specifically subways, is so grand that I have a hard time believe it’s not apparent to friends, family, and perhaps even the metro drivers I blow kisses to every time I enter and exit. I even contemplated a metro related tattoo at one point. This love of subways has only been intensified since coming to Europe and I didn’t feel truly at ease with a trip unless I felt comfortable with their Metro system. Stockholm, Barcelona, Paris…check, check, check. I view myself as a sort of subway Napoleon, if I can conquer their metro, I can conquer their people. This in mind I knew the trip to Brussels would not be our best when Cara and I found ourselves in the middle of what seemed like a VHS tape on “Uncomfortable Subway Situations: Ride with Pride”.

After a post bus trip nap we had plans to meet up with our friend Joris, who was coming down to Brussels from his small Belgium town. Adapting our party outfits to the tundra like conditions took a little longer than expected and we were running a little late when we hopped on the metro. The Brussels system isn’t horribly confusing but it uses more trams than subways and therefore deciphering the lines on the map does take a little bit of effort. We figured out how to get to Joris’ station and it only required one small transfer; we were warm, we were ready. As with any big city on a Friday night, the metro did have a few rowdy teenagers who I can imagine just get really drunk and ride the metro all night, forgetting two hours into taking it around a loop if they ever had actual plans for that night but not caring either way. This group was a little louder and more aggressive than any I’ve seen in Paris and we were still feeling quite foreign but this group seemed to contain themselves to the other side of the car. Not interested in being too conspicuous I’d glance over every now and then to watch them shout and spill beer as they tested their reflexes with the subway doors. The only other really comfortable place to look was down at my double-socked feet for to my right was a group of young girls taking up a four-seat spot. They had ratty hair, suspiciously large breasts and seemed to be angry with everyone and everything. Had these girls spent more time on personal hygiene and less on death glares they might be a bit more cheerful. Like our language defense in every foreign country Cara and I remained silent and stoic on the subway, occasionally glancing up at each other and giving a telling eye-roll or awkward smile. Our composure was broken when we heard a woman a couple seats away from the glaring girls scream.

“HEY, you, get out of my bag! I know you were going through my bag, what are you doing?!”

The woman was leaning against the back of a four-seat section of the car and her purse naturally fell in a position that seems conducive to pick pocketing. I couldn’t see the man she was accusing but the man next to her was now getting involved, telling her to call the police.

“He was going through my purse,” she turns her head to the man, “I KNOW YOU WERE.” She was speaking in English, an ambiguously non-American accent. She was naturally overwhelmed but where as I tend to internalize my stressing and forget about motor skills entirely she was having no trouble expressing her freak-out. It seemed odd that she was constantly brushing her fake blonde hair out of her face as she flung her purse around and rummaged through it to find something missing. The intensity of her shouting and her building physical anger was making me nervous about a possible impending fight. She was now turned to the group of ratty girls who were now laughing manically.

“Hey! You little shits had something to do with it I know. You were trying to distract me weren’t you!?”

At this point I turned to give Cara my best silent, wide-eyed, “What the hell!?” expression but as I broke my gaze from the metro battle I caught a glimpse of Cara now on the station platform. Motor skills naturally failing I couldn’t manage to shout anything to her and I caught the door handle just as the doors locked shut with a dramatic clunking sound. She managed to escape the bizarre world that was taking place within the metro car. I rested against the hard plastic wall, a shade of orange that seemed to be appreciated only during the 70’s and frequently mixed with browns or anything offensively distasteful. It was just a touch off from being the color of prison jumpsuits; it seems Brussels is not without its irony. Happy to busy myself with my cell phone I texted Cara to let her know that I was getting off at the next stop, which was actually where we needed to make the transfer. Waiting for her at the platform I could catch a glimpse of the English speaking girl rummaging through her bag with one of the men from the metro; counting all her sample perfume bottles and fake-nail appliqués to make sure they were all there.

Cara got off one of the next train and explained how she just had to get off the train, that it just did not feel okay. I imagine she meant it less in a Zen-aura way and more of a “hey people are getting robbed and little girls with fake boobs are laughing” sort of way. I understood. I tried to picture how I would react if someone were stealing from my man purse or maybe just my pockets. Unfortunately I just sort of picture me realizing it, giving the person a strange, frightened look and then sort of just sighing VERY dramatically. I’d freeze up and not move; now more scared of awkward interaction with the person rather than actually getting my things back. I’d get off the metro and call someone to complain about how my iPod was stolen and now I’ll be bored during workouts, or if my phone was stolen I’d go to my house and complain about the same things but complain about having to get to the house as well.

We switched to the next line, which was significantly less dramatic but still featured that haunting shade of orange. Although we were now even more late the train got us to our destination. It was a new experience to be conquered by a new city’s metro but I’m confident that when, or if, I return to Brussels I’ll cross it off the map of conquered metros, of course I won’t bring a man-purse and I’ll keep my eyes away from easily entertained drunks, easily annoyed girls and just look contently down at my feet; if they knew I was the Napoleon of international public transit I’d be eaten alive.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

choo choo train of thought...

Only in my present situation can being at McDonald’s be part of a much needed mental/physical health day. Milkshakes are the new aspirin. The past few weeks have really been so all over the place that my blogging capabilities have been at a clear minimum, but i'll attempt a sort of cop-out list blog with mini anecdotes that range in ages ago to today but all are things I'm afraid I'll forget or want to write in more depth later. A theme you will not find, but they all stem from my experience or mental wanderings...both of which are heavily influenced by milkshakes so I guess there is a theme.

(For the record I'm pretty sure I lost weight since being here)

-The most info I want to divulge about the past couple of days is my metro ride from school yesterday morning. Despite the ridiculous amounts of metro strikes (there was one today that was barely noticeable) my metro ride has been the one source of routine and stability here; a 5 second walk to the metro stop, an easy 30 minutes on the 8 line to Madeline and then another easy 30 minutes on the 12 to Port de la Chapelle. If it's not too crowded and I can get a seat I read (metro-reading was a skill I never thought I'd possess). Usually my metro-rides don’t include hallucination but there’s a first for everything. I had the oddest sleep schedule the past couple days where naps usually carried more sleep time/weight than actual “nights,” this has been going on for only a few days but it caught up to me that morning on the metro. Traveling back from an exam I drifted in and out of sleep so frequently that my sleep deprivation turn to hallucination. I had found a seat in an empty four-seat section, one by the wall…deadly. I’d frequently move my leg over because I could swear someone had just brushed against it. Conversations I was hearing prompted me to display the full gamut of facial expressions and mild grunts. Occasionally I’d stand up just to give myself a mild form of movement; afraid I’d pass out and wake up having traveled the entire track an undisclosed amount of time. When I was snapped back to reality I’d look over at the few passengers aside from me, their expressions not lost in translation, they thought I was either insane or on some sort of drug. I was too tired to be ashamed.

That being said tonight I could have received a call from the Pope saying, “Madonna, Hillary Clinton, and the Olsen Twins are having a get together at the Louve, you GOTTA go,” I’d politely decline, reach for an unnecessary Tylenol PM and have my own silent party in bed. Besides I hear the Pope is a sloppy drunk at parties.

(* update: I just had a night of 10 hours of sleep, have been reborn)

- Despite the wildly excessive street cleaning in Paris I’m frequently amazed and disgusted by what I find on the sidewalks. I’ve stepped in a 2.5 foot smear of feces in a metro station, stepped over a pile of puke a mere 4 inches outside the door to my school and stepped over a small intestine outside the butcher shop near my apartment. I’d stop looking exclusively down at my feet when I walk but it’s my only form of shoe-defense.

- The other day I decided to buy a block of brie while shopping and a baguette from one of the many local bakeries just to cram a little more cliché French culture into my last few days. I was alone in the apartment for the afternoon and had already done the essentials: ate, napped, showered, dishes so despite my full stomach I decided to indulge in my food purchases. Having meticulously cut half of the baguette up into small oval morsels and took care to spread a respectable amount of cheese on each piece. I sat down and ate in front of a French makeover show I didn’t understand and realized this was more depressing than fun. I’m frequently amazed at how many times I think an activity will be fun or charming only to have it actually turn out sort of sad. It could have been the intro to a Lifetime movie about depression and obesity had I been a has-been 35-year-old actress and my glass of coke was a bottle of whiskey. Again, I’m shocked at the fact that I’ve lost weight here.

- I somewhat spontaneously bought a bus ticket to Belgium the other day and I leave this weekend. I thought I might be doing the trip alone and I was somewhat apprehensive for I’ve never traveled in Europe by myself but also somewhat excited for that same reason. It ended up that Cara could actually accompany me for one night so it should be a good balance. I assume Belgium will be good for some head clearing; waffles sort of have that power.

- Thursday, December 20th, is my “going away party” at Pop’in. If you’re reading this and in Paris, let me know cause you are probably invited.

- There are some habits I’ve picked up here that I was sort of afraid I’d pick up and sort of afraid to continue when I come back home. I’m generally afraid of anything that could be considered an addiction. Coca-cola does not count; my body now runs on that. The content of my veins are carbonated. It might not sound serious but I have truly come to appreciate/need coffee. While I’m always impressed by people who can randomly throw out bits of knowledge or taste-expertise when you’re at a café with them, I don’t want to be one of those people who calls themselves a coffee addict and buys novelty coffee-themed sweatshirts and desk ornaments. I don’t want to become my high-school history teacher Mr. Haja whose coffee breath acted as a three feet deflector shield for any sort of social interaction.

- One of my French friends read my blog and although he said “I didn’t know you were so clever,” he also didn’t think it could be described as funny. Perfectly understandable and respectable but I happened to witness said friend laugh at a Garfield comic in a French newspaper. That was the moment I realized that if I ever had a career as a literary humorist my tours would probably skip right over France. France is Jim Davis territory.

- Being here has made me realize how isolated I am from the rest of the world on a mere communication sense. I like the idea of being able to pick up and move to a foreign country without feeling so foreign. Meeting people here you realize how flawed our language-education is in the US and how great it can be. It has inspired me to take on studying a new language when I return. While most logical signs would point to continuing Spanish I feel some sort of strange debt to attempt to learn French. I do know that if I returned to Paris being able to somewhat effective communicate I would enjoy it even more. Strangely being here has made my English somewhat worse for I’m frequently talking to people for whom English is their second or even third language and for some reason this makes me overly think about what I’ll say and what words to use. Often I’ll end up somewhat stumbling and using awkward phrasing. A while ago I was talking for a while to a French guy my age who was completely fluent in English; he stopped me mid sentence once to ask if English was my first language or not.
“It seems you have a bit of trouble with it?”

- I’m finding the prospect of essentially stepping off the plane and stepping into Christmas morning completely strange and jarring. A lot of these feelings have to do with me being able to successfully wrap my presents.

- Following that train of thought I’ve found it hard to think of things I want for Christmas because I feel as if I’ve been given an amazing vacation for the past three months, a great deal of which was made possible by parents and relatives. On the flip side these past three months was the longest time in the past five years that I haven’t been employed and not being able to buy those little things you want but don’t really need has been an unwelcome reality.

- Continuing the train of thought one of the things I do want is a tattoo but I don’t want it to be rushed into or not given adequate amount of thought. Two ideas I’ve had for a while that I would be very happy getting are 1.) a cityscape comprising of selected buildings from cities I’ve lived in / spent time in on my upper back. 2.) a medium sized rectangular print on the upper inside of my arm…there is a Chagall print I’ve always really liked but I also think an Aubrey Beardsley print would be a wise decision. While those two have been walking around inside my head for a while I’ve recently opened the floor to the idea of an illustration from a children’s book namely a Quinten Blake/Roald Dahl image or a Sempé illustration of the Roddy character from the book “Martin Pebble”.

Christmas lists and shopping usually doesn’t require this much debating, thinking or introspection. Although it does require a good credit limit, which I have officially, earned thanks to my continually on-time and in-full payments!

- During one of my sleep deprived days I realized halfway through the day that my underwear was on inside out. Tre chic.

- Thanks to my description of the reaction of Airborne to water and subsequently Cara’s myspace alias we have been teaching the French (and some New Yorkers) the phrase “Frothy top”. The word Frothy is undeniably amusing in English but thanks to the difficulty the French have with the “TH” sound it becomes 100% more amusing and charming when a French person says it. Thankfully a lot of these conversations take place near a pint or pitcher of beer so one only need to point to the foam of the beer in order to convey the meaning. Beer and Vocab: A Frothy Tale could be a fitting title for my inevitable Parisian memoirs.

This entry ended up being much longer than expected but my body is staying awake much longer than expected. The list format took some of the burden off my brain but as cliché as it sounds it does feel good to write and hopefully I’ll have an actually exciting blog entry after Belgium and then at least one masterfully nostalgic and inspiring entry before I return to the U.S.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

4 small +

The following is my response to the "Tell a clear story with a beginning, middle and end in five photographs" assignment for my Directing class taught by the one and only Boris (see previous post):

The other projects ranged from very artsy to shockingly simple with a strange number of them involving death and/or crime. After we finished looking at mine Boris responded by saying, "Aww we will have fun talking about this one..." What followed was a heated 20 minute debate where my peers were really into the project and thought it was clever and Boris thought it was too vague. Although he thought it wasn't clear, actually to quote him, "All I see is a bunch of legs walking around," many of my classmates got the idea right away. Karen (see previous post) thought it was funny because clear it was me picking up "a woman of the streets"; apparently based on Karen's logic anyone who owns red pumps is a unabashed prostitute. Sorry Cara. While Karen was kindof off topic others surprised me by picking up on the small details like the body language of the feet and how the woman was obviously the one seducing the male and he was relatively apathetic in the whole thing. All this talk was lost on good ol' Boris for he began to challenge the class to the question of how one shows that two people are strangers based on one still photograph. While it was hard to really take everything Boris says seriously seeing as he also said that "The ending is clear because if man and woman go to bed together it ends in either marraige or one-night-stand," I still sat slackjawed for most of the class. I'm not used to in class debates here especially when I thought I had a very simple, clear project.

Grading for Boris consists of a 30 second discussion of the project (usually) then followed "Alright now we grade." Then, with the author present, he asks the class to shout out what they think the person deserves based on a scale of 1 to 5. Through the past few days the scale has come to involve + and -'s as well yet the acual academic meaning or consequence of these has yet to be understood. After the class grades are approximated into one mean number Boris gives his grade. The class gave me a 4+ and I expected Boris' to be around 2, possibly 3 based on his vein-popping distaste for my feet exclusive portrayl of a fling. He gave me a four and averaged out the grade to a "4 small +". I sat back in my seat, sighed and vowed never again to take minimal risks in Boris' class and buy a pair of red shoes.

(feel free to grade yourself, get creative with the grading scale, 3~~~7, 6^44, 8:), whatever)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

"He Asked Us If We Wanted To Buy Coke or Ecstasy"

The crowd was so packed that you gave up the idea of simply moving through the crowd and adopting the concept of moving by way of the crowd. You hoped to luck out and get sandwiched in between two lines of people who were moving in your direction so the lines would do the work for you, much like the intestine moves digested materials. By the looks of the floor the digestive system was cleaner than this bar. Despite the density and the dirt, we were having fun. After being abandoned outside an early closing bar we spent nearly an hour trying to traverse the tundra of a city; happiness was achieved by mere warmth. We were with some friends of friends who were visiting Paris for a short time and while I had just met them I felt some strange obligation to be positive for Paris’ sake. We have been to this particular bar quite a few times so my anecdotes about the crowd and knowledge of the bar made me feel even more like a true Parisian resident to our new friends. The fact that I had yet to adopt the slightest bit of French language was a purposefully overlooked factor. I was providing a service to those young French who wanted to improve their English. The universal language. God’s language.

Our visiting friends ducking out at a few four a.m. was just another sign that I had adopted well to the Parisian lifestyle. Stephanie and I were sticking it out; the fact that I had paid seven euro for a drink justified to me staying till close, perhaps sleeping overnight and a complimentary early morning breakfast buffet. Moving out of the most crowded room we spotted an empty table by a few attractive people our age. Compared to the rest of the crowd they seemed to be pretty passive, waiting for us to sit down by them perhaps. Or maybe just on downers. I squeezed in on the long booth seat next to Stephanie and a couple who had begun to display Parisian affection for each other, which translated to English means they were making out to a degree that would make most porn stars uncomfortable. Soon it became clear that we were in the unofficial couples zone, and while we are a couple of people we are most certainly not a couple. We took the time to do some Parisian people-watching, which translated to English means visual judgment. We decided which couples were poorly matched and how they would be better paired. Many of my rearrangement simply had them dating me instead. Our lonely-hearts game ended with the sound of the bar bell, five a.m. had come fast.

We were back on the streets. A street we had successfully caught a cab on numerous times. The cold made the streets seem vaster and made you feel smaller. We finally flagged down an empty cab…he wouldn’t take us. He told us to walk down a block or two and we’d hit a taxi stand. Worn out groups of people dotted the stand, a few barely managing to stand up, and some staggering out into the street as if to get a better look. We were a few people behind in the line but outlook didn’t look dreary. Thanks to the everlasting metro strike I had left the house prepared for a night containing some winter walking: a long sleeve shirt over a short sleeve shirt, a cardigan, a leather jacket that may or may not be bulletproof and a hat befitting of a thin-skinned Eskimo. I might as well have been wearing pasties and a crotch-covering belt. The wide heavily traffic street created an unforgiving wind that mocked my idea of layering. We were huddling together and doing our best to conjure up images of poor abandoned orphans for that certain Daddy Warbucks driven cab. The few people who were in front of us had been successful in obtaining the rare open cab but it was beginning to seem as if our luck was not as strong. Had my rabbit’s foot matched this outfit my night could have been drastically different. I knew a beige rabbit’s foot would have been much more practical.

I have a tendency to obtain a odd smirk whenever I’m nervous or uncomfortable but I was surprised to find out I obtain a wide grin whenever I’m on the brink of frostbite. “Why are you smiling right now!?” Stephanie asked, clearly unaware that I was not in fact enjoying myself. Unwilling to open my mouth and let precious mouth heat escape I simply shrugged and wiggled around more, trying to keep my blood pumping. Stephanie pointed out a group of people waiting by the nearby Metro station and because it was a bit after five a.m. it seemed to suggest that they were anticipating the first Metro passing through. While one would think that a Metro strike means no Metro, the Parisian definition is quite different. With this particular Metro strike (the second of my short time here) certain lines were running, certain lines were not, and those that were running had certain amounts of trains operating and all of these logistics were constantly changing. What was running at 1 metro for every 8 before could be completely dead in a few hours. I had noticed earlier in the night that one line of the 8 was running fairly regularly and this was the line we could take here. I suggested we run to a nearby cheap restaurant, warm ourselves up with greasy food and wait till the Metro started up again. While we were both hesitant to leave our spot in line, every unlit taxi that passed seemed to make me even colder. A few more minutes outside and Stephanie could simply sled home using my frozen corpse.

Seemingly unaware of the time and place many people were simply engaged in conversation, ordering full dinners. Others were chain smoking over a greasy Greek sandwich; I even spotted a full family. Like most times I need to interact with a random Parisian I simply prepared myself for the necessary vocabulary or sentence and anything else they said I simply sort of smiled making sure it wasn’t a “yes of course smile” or “no thank you smile,” I’ve perfected a very objective, non-committal smile. While I assumed the transaction went okay seeing as I ordered fries, paid 2.50 and the man left without shaking his head or screaming at me he did point to the front façade of the store a few times and I ran over to Stephanie, already seated. “Why is he pointing to the front? I did everything okay, I swear,” pleading for her assistance. Perhaps viewing the mound of fries as proper payment for my incompetence she told the man we were eating here and he gave us the fries. Setting them ceremonially on the table and hovering over them like a campfire we took in their loving heat. Ripping into them National Geographic style we were suddenly interrupted by a large man speaking commanding French to us. I turned my head sharply to stare at him, ketchup still on my lips, I was a Lion interrupted at feeding time. I had no patience for Gorilla antics. “He says we have to pay to sit down here, that’s why they were pointing to the front. It’s more expensive to actually eat inside,” Stephanie explained. Without taking my face from out of the paper dish I handed over the money. The harshness of the rule aside, on a night like this it was simply cruel. I had to use my best motivating skills to get Stephanie to agree to leave our unexpected sanctuary. I wasn’t really tired but I was growing tired of this night. Besides, I had just subjected a family to my late night binge eating; the grease and mayonnaise staying on my thighs, the shame staying on my face.

Believing we had just cheated the system we were excited to simply dash across the street and hop on a Metro, avoiding cab fare the entire night. Happy to actually have a destination in sight, I didn’t mind the fact that it seemed to be even colder out than before. There were less people on the street but I wasn’t sure if the crowd’s absence meant that they had lucked out with a cab, simply walked home cold and defeated, or were the victims of desperate cannibalistic actions of the few sad people left in the street. Running down into the Metro, which seemed even colder than above we passed an old man walking slowly out. He spoke something in French to us and again I smiled. “He says the Metro’s not running. No metro at all,” Stephanie translated. I was in disbelief, I refused to accept it until we marched down to the platform and were forced to confront the reality of our situation. I wasn’t ready to go back into the unprotected cold. I wasn’t ready to do the waiting for a taxi routine again. I wasn’t ready to be consumed by those who are still waiting; they can probably smell the delicious salt and potato on my icy breath.

I had no more nervous grin or frozen smile. I didn’t have the energy or patience for facial expressions. Stephanie was still trying her best at getting a cab but I merely shifted my body back and forth, trying to prevent my muscles from tensing up. My back was doing a scary stiffening action every few minutes.

“Should we try walking to a new area to get a cab, it looks completely hopeless here” I suggested.
“Are you serious, walking?”
“I’ll actually be warmer if I’m moving, and I just want to know I’m going somewhere. I can’t stand this idling.”
“I literally can’t move my feet, I’m not sure they’re still there. I can’t,” Stephanie reasoned.

An old beat up car had pulled up to us and the few other small groups of people waiting; he had offered to drop people off somewhere but no one was going in his direction.

“Is hitchhiking legal in Paris?” Stephanie asked.
“I think so, I think it still might be legal in all of Europe,” I hesitantly stated.

Stephanie now had new inspiration for getting us home and all it required was a different hand position. Unlike my reaction to the unbearable cold, Stephanie seemed to have the vocal energy to beg and shout for help from those who would be willing to drop us back near our respective homes. Some cars would look over surprised and unnerved which made me question my knowledge of hitchhiking legality and some would drive past in stoic silence.

“We look like normal, decent people, right?” Stephanie asked me.
“Look like? We are normal decent people. Normal, decent people popsicles,” I assured her. The concept of hitchhiking didn’t even register in my head. It was one of those crazy things that my Mom tells me about from her time in Europe or even during her college days; or else it begins a horrifying accounted of murdered travelers on Fox News, but it’s not one of my recognized mode of transportation; let alone in a city I can’t understand. An unassuming car a few years old pulls into the taxi stand but past us and right to another couple of people. My hands deep in my pockets for warms I waddle into the street, looking for a sign of hope in the distance.

“He’ll take us!” Stephanie screams out to me. She’s leaning next to the car, which the other two people have already crammed into. For Parisian standards it’s a fair sized car but in America standards it’s a Razor scooter. Stephanie slides in next to the couple who are barely fitting as it is, the one propped up on the other’s lap. I forgo any sort of formalities or questions and sit on top of Stephanie, but I have to tilt the upper half of my body towards the center of the car while leaning forward; my stomach turns into a series of wrenching muscle knots. My neck and shoulders are against the stained upholstered roof and I rest my tired head on the back of the driver’s seat.

“We’ll have to give me a little bit of money, I said we would. He knows these other people,” Stephanie whispers to me. I nod in agreement. I have only a few Euros in coins but I’m not outside and therefore everything will work out.

A few destinations are shouted, Bastille being Stephanie and ours, it’s not really where my apartment is but it’s an easy twenty-five minute walk I’ve done too many times to count. The shouting doesn’t cease and I can sense Stephanie’s voice getting tense. “No” is the only word I can understand during the ride and the frequency with which it’s used should be alarming but the part of my brain that registers fear has yet to thaw. I stare at the mess of feet and try to look up to the other two people to gauge their expressions. I realize that me speaking loud enough for the driver to understand that I don’t speak French is a poor decision so I continue my silence. The car pulls up to a street I’m not familiar with and the other two slid out and slam the door. It’s just the driver and us and as I sit down properly I can see a woman, silent, next to him. She’s looking out the window and I join her. It’s well past the six a.m. mark but the city shows no signs of morning. The driver is playing loud techno music and it makes the car move a bit faster. Stephanie leans in close to me and whispers, “He wanted to charge us fifty dollars, I told me we needed to get out then, but he lowered it, I have him down to fifteen but I only have a twenty but I told him fifteen is all I can afford.” I pull out the coins from the pocket and systematically add each one up; almost seven euro. I don’t want to keep speaking in English so I try to give Stephanie an encouraging smile but it might have come out as objective, non-committal.

I wonder if he frequently ends his Friday nights by driving around, picking up cold, desperate strangers and charging them extensive fees. I look over at his female companion, still silent, holding her large bag in her lap. It doesn’t seem like she approves but she seems to accept it. The music is still too loud but it’s making the silence understandable. The driver and Stephanie are talking again now, I barely pay attention but I can tell it’s not as heated. Stephanie later tells me he was asking if we wanted to buy cocaine or ecstasy. How much would he charge for cocaine to strangers who just told him they couldn’t afford a fifty-dollar car ride? We spot the Bastille; Stephanie gives up her last twenty.

Too exhausted to properly assess the progression of our night and again faced with the brutal reality of the wintertime weather we quickly separate. I start my walk home, the driver’s bad music still thumping in my head. I quickly pass a few clumps of post-partying walkers and from then on my walk is mostly devoid of any sign of human life. It’s down one single street and I know that if I start my pace quickly I’ll get into a groove that will get me home quickly. It’s never fully dark in Paris but it still seems dead. Without really questioning, I know which streets I can pass through without checking the stoplight. I’ve done this walk so many times, mostly with me that I have begun to think of it as my own. If I begin to start seeing another regular walking down Daumensil between the hours of 4:30 – 6:30 a.m. I’ll think of them as an imposter. I make my steps louder, not only to make my presence known but the cold air makes the echoes more pronounced. I begin to see the Daumensil metro stop which means only a few more minutes, it’s at this point where I can start to really visual getting home and right now nothing exists except my bed and the covers I have piled on top of it. I’ll have to pull the curtains tightly closed because it will be light out soon and while I doubt it will wake me, I want to be sure.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Free Parking

I’ll always be surprised to see a pony. Last Sunday I decided to explore the hint of a park I had spotted from my permanent seat at McDonald’s. There were ponies; in fact, there was everything beautiful and picturesque that I’m a bit hesitant to go back for fear I’ll merely find an expansive landfill or parking lot and I imagined the whole park, not a pony in sight.

It was one of those Sundays where doing the dishes and listening to music was actually considered “doing something,” and when you live in an apartment without real TV or any internet the dishes tend to be spotless. In Paris, few things are open on Sunday, but being here for such a brief time I am constantly viewing a day inside as one that could have been spent strolling the Seine and growing a pencil thin mustache. I had just shaved and this park was closer than the Seine. Often when I go out to explore Paris my time is dictated by my stomach, for once I start to get hungry I often have an hour-long window before I’m delirious with hunger: unable to hold a conversation, menstruation moody, and physically anxious. Rarely will I actually see the fiscal benefit of grabbing a sandwich where I am and continuing with my adventuring. Once home I rip into a bag of chips or bread and jam unable to contain myself for the five minutes it takes to make pasta. This afternoon I ate to hibernation standards and even grabbed some Pocky and a water bottle just in case. Viewing this as a possible means for executing the romantic visions of Parisian parks I’ve had before I packed my sketchbook and art supplies. The majestic pony is best captured via pen and ink.

Past the McDonalds is unchartered territory and away from the center of Paris so everything seemed even more foreign. “What could that grand building be over there, so pristine it positively glows,” I thought to myself, “Oooh it’s a Laundromat!” I began to notice that my pilgrimage was a popular one and I was constantly being flanked by small groups of families or smiling couples. The park has a few entrances that are preceded by large gravel walkways bordered with benches and a large wooden map, which gives the feeling that you’re entering an old-fashioned amusement park. I was greeted with ponies and small children. This park is virtually unknown in Paris and I have yet to visit the truly famous ones; I expect to walk into the Luxembourg gardens and see small jockeys riding giraffes and emus. Little kids could pay a few Euros to ride around a small part of the park on pony-back while their parents strolled leisurely next to them. Only one parent was adjusting the child for gratuitous picture taking, the others were casually talking and laughing with their children; probably some lighthearted preschool anecdotes or friendly disagreements over Sartre’s philosophies.

Unlike most of Paris, the park seemed be straightforward in its layout. A large kidney shaped lake was in the middle and the park stretched out around it, the main path encircling the lake. I thought a lap around the lake would be the perfect route to take in order to scope out the perfect grassy knoll for my Parisian doodles. The path was a virtual trip through Norman Rockwell’s greatest hits, images so heartwarming I literally made a list as soon as I sat down to draw. A little girl rode past me on an old bike, she was carrying a pinwheel high in the air. The lake featured couples on rowboats that somehow managed to row while leaning in to give each other little kisses. I passed a man who was playing with a miniature wooden clipper ship, hand-painted of course. A group of children (let’s say they were once orphans) were skipping stones by the lake’s edge. A father and a son were leaning over a small wooden bridge, fishing. These Kodak moments aside nearly everyone else who I passed were smiling couples, well behaved families or old friends with non stop chit-chat. It was enough to send Mr. Rodgers on a three-day drunken binge that ends in him setting fire to his now inferior neighborhood. I could see him waving a white cardigan, a man defeated.

I could commiserate with ol’ Rodgy; it’s hard being surrounded by such imagery. It’s a lot for one man to take. Paris’ beauty can be isolating. I often enjoy doing things by myself: errands, movie-watching, public transportation, using the bathroom; all perfectly exceptional solo activities. My trip to the Pompidou wasn’t hindered in the least by my solo status. Sometimes after going to a Museum by myself I’ll be reduced to coming home and putting on Celine Dion’s version of “All by Myself” on repeat or imagining a sort of “museum relationship” where you notice the same person over and over again until you believe they’re following you; making an exceptionally coy attempt at flirtation. Then you realize they’re merely moving from Picasso’s blue period to his cubist period, along with the rest of the museum traffic.

The happy couples aside I couldn’t help but realize that unlike the pony I, as a single individual, was a rare breed in this park. Renting a rowboat I’d be limited to humiliating circular movements. I’d look comically large on a pony, and despite my lack of Sartre knowledge, I’d be disappointed at the Pony’s silence. Paris has been testing my sense of independence with the internal conflict between the appreciation of your surroundings and the desire to experience it with someone. Public displays of affection in Paris could be given MPPA ratings; and they’d often be at the PG-13 level; although the other night in a bar I saw a couple so into their romance they didn’t notice that the woman’s right breast was hanging out, gasping for air during their suffocating make out session. Thankfully this didn’t make me feel bad for myself.

Rounding the halfway point in my lap around the lake I noticed that the park stretched out even further than I had imagined, too expansive to see an end. This was the perfect time for me to make a detour to my artistic landing. I couldn’t take any more laughing children or fresh picnic lunches; my bitter attitude could be channeled into duck and tree sketches. Now knowing that the park was quite expansive I didn’t want to go too far off the trail that I would get lost, but I also wanted to veer a little bit, away from those friendly faces. I needed a spot that both Robert Frost and Rand McNally would agree upon. I found one by a trashcan. My little sketching gave me a sense of personal accomplishment; I was finally beginning on my goal of drawing more. An individual goal that could only be motivated by myself. Or maybe, a perfect Parisian park.

The Sunday sun was starting to leave the Sunday day. My stomach was surprising me with its temperance, but I decided to forge my way back with the families and couples. A peace walk of sorts. The budding sunset was making the trip even more grotesquely gorgeous and I needed a peeing hobo or overturned trashcan to cleanse my visual palette. For a city and a person that virtually shuts down on Sundays my day proved to be somewhat eventual; I like to think there was give-and-take in my relationship with the park. It gave me a reason to walk past the McDonalds and it provided the only time I didn’t find rollerblading to be an egregious error in human judgment. I gave it a much-needed dose of individualism and infinite blog fame. I’ve started to read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and while I’m just a few pages past the preface I appreciate the possibilities of Paris in terms of artistic inspiration; my sketches are barely past the doodle status and I’ll never feel fully ready without a set of crayolas, but I’ve never written so much and Film school was been jarringly hands-on. Just don’t ask me how my French is coming along. I now know how to properly pronounce Oui, and I say it with a turret’s like fervor.

Despite my seemingly well-chosen spot to sketch I soon realized I was a little lost. I looped around the walkway a bit, where the rowboats were all tied up now, and where the man with the clipper-ship was sailing, a few people were still out with their dogs (not Poodles) but the picturesque sights I was recalling acted as trail-markers and I soon found myself back at the beginning. Much to the children’s dismay, the ponies were now being packed up into the trailer. Having been greeted by the ponies I was more prepared to face their presence upon exiting but just as I was about to leave I noticed that the only one that still had a child on it was shitting what appeared to be one full month’s worth of food. It was the perfect way to cleanse the squeaky clean image I had of the park and gave me hope for a better, brighter and more inspiring future here in Paris. Mr. Rodger is putting the Jack Daniels away, finally putting a shirt on under his cardigan and realizing that he might have overreacted at Paris’ perfection.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Exchange Rate

I’m not sexually promiscuous. My wardrobe features no Americana or even an Old Navy 4th of July tee. I understand all my classes and can engage in normal social conversation with my classmates. Yet I’m an exchange student; a title I quickly laughed at and dismissed when I was first introduced as such. I’ve seen “American Pie”, and I’ve laughed at the Swedish exchange student in “Can’t Hardly Wait”, yet I fail to fulfill any of the stereotypes these fine films and other forms of media have informed me about exchange students. It may be a different case since I go to an International School where most people have lived in a half a dozen countries and speak three fluent languages, but my title, and possible stigma, as the exchange student has been rearing it’s ugly stars-and-stripes face at me too many times for me to ignore.

I do not exaggerate when I say that every single one of my classmates is a character. This is not a good or bad thing; it’s usually merely an entertaining thing. Karen is one of these characters. Karen has been described by other classmates as “sucking at everything,” her skin, hair and eyes are all a very similar shade of amber, despite being obviously quite a bit older than the rest of the class she remains ambiguously ageless, she is frequently 20-40 minutes late for class and she tends to regularly interrupt class with inane literary references. I’ve never minded Karen, she’s a lot to take but she always interesting, is usually very well put together and is a confirmed owner of patent-leather loafers. She hails from Swaziland but her personal history reads like a “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago” adventure. South African accents tend to bring out the best in the English language, and her English Prep school education tends to reinforce this accent to a degree suitable for giving the Royal Family dialect coaching. With her older age, scholarly accent and shiny clean loafers whenever she talks to you you tend to feel as if you’re a common street child being scolded. Her accent is so significant, it sums up her persona, Karen is her accent. Karen has issues with my accent.

Coming inside from our break a small group of us were nearly run over by a Range Rover pulling in fast to the school entrance; a head pops out of the drivers’ side window and shouts, “Sorry chaps!”…Karen. Inside the lobby, which consists of the delicious .40 Euro coffees and a few mismatched chairs, I sit down talking with some friends scattered throughout the room. From the corner of my eye I can see Karen closely talking to my friend Madison and looking in my direction. I can already tell she is asking him what my name is. The previous week I was on a brief shoot with Karen and upon seeing my storyboards she came over to me and asked if I would sit down with her and work on hers; she then proceeded to volunteer me as director for the next film shoot by shouting to me from across the classroom, “Rodney! You should do it, I’ve seen you storyboard, you can do it.” I just figured out how to use the coffee machines successfully and had yet to actually touch equipment in the school yet somehow the fact that I know how to draw someone crouching against a wall gives me directorial validation. During the extended silence of the class unwilling to volunteer she volunteered me another two times. Last week she was all too familiar with my name, apparently this week she forgets. I mentally prepare myself for conversation with her.

“Where are you from Rodney?”
“From Philadelphia originally but I’ve been living in Boston for the past few years”
“That’s strange. I wouldn’t have guess that at t’all. I suppose your accent through me. I’ve been having a wild time with it.”
“Oh? I’m not usually aware of myself having an accent I guess.”
“Yes well see Madison [Madison is from Portland, Oregon] speaks quite differently from you but he’s from the States as well. He says everything quite clearly, quite crisply. Whereas you tend to…sing everything”

This is where I stop. This is where I glance over to Stephanie and Jean-Louis to make sure I didn’t just imagine someone referring to my speech as having a “singing” quality. I don’t even think people would describe my singing as having a “singing quality” let alone my everyday speech. Jean-Louis’ confused look and Stephanie’s barely contained laughter confirm that I have not imagined such a statement. I attempt to respond…

“I don’t really understand”
“See! Right there, you sang that.” She makes a twirling motion with her hands as if to illustrate the physical movement of my voice. The dance to my vocal singing. Never having been one to effectively hide my facial expressions she sees the mix of confusion and disbelief in my face and tries to elaborate in what she might possibly perceive as a complimentary way.

“I would have guessed you were from California, Southern California. It’s very much like those rich ones who are always frolicking on the beaches in television.”
“Uh no” is all I can manage to muster in my most East Coast monotone manner. Karen disregards and continues…
“Like those girls who are always vacationing in Malibu, those rich kids from the media, Southern California. Very rich California”

Karen keeps repeating these phrases as if they are cues for me to chime in, saying how she’s right…yes I was mistaken, my accent is very SoCal, rich girl, I was having a blonde moment before when you described it the first few times but once you mentioned Malibu I totally understood.

As. If.

Now like every red-blooded adolescent male I had fantasies of Jeep rides down Sunset Boulevard, one hand balancing the steering-wheel and the Venti-Frappicuino, the other adjusting the rearview mirror to check myself out; but those visions came and went with “Clueless” viewings. They were never substantial and I happily never have an actual experience relating to said Jeep ride. I have a few Southern California friends and have been to Los Angeles quite a few times but I dislike the city mostly because I never feel like I belong there. Karen’s repeat viewings of the O.C. tell her otherwise.

I could only tell to Karen that I had never had such a comparison before and repeated my personal geographical history to which she replied:

“Oh so that’s what a Boston accent is like!”
“Oh god no.”

Karen soon dropped her traumatizing description of my accent and I was left to debrief with Stephanie (my friend who was born in Mexico and was raised both there, Seattle and studied in Spain) and Jean-Louis (my friend who was born and raised in Guatemala but has studied in Belgium and France). Stephanie having lived in the West Coast laughed at Karen’s remarks, which made me feel better. Jean-Louis inquired as to whether I had a Philadelphian accent, to which I replied I’ve never actually lived there but it’s the closest place that people in Europe might know. He then asked if I had a Boston accent sounded like and I did my best “Pahk da Cah in Hahvahd Yahd,” anyone who needs reminding as to my ability at accents or impressions needs only to read a few posts down. Jean-Louis then said that reminded him of “Rocky.” The movie Rocky famously takes place in Philadelphia.

While I might have left a few people confused, myself included I’m not used to being a representative of the East Coast. There are really only a few Americans in the program and none of them come from the East Coast, far from in all cases. A few times in Europe, when asked I’d tell people I was from “the New York area’ seeing as I’ve been countless times, isn’t too far from my hometown and honestly just didn’t want to have the conversation die at “Pennsylvania”. When I was traveling in England in high school people would often respond shocked, “You’re from Transylvania!!” But suddenly I felt an imposter to even the title of East Coast. I’ve never been in a position of providing a sole personal representation of the East Coast. I’ll spend my nights researching Boston, Connecticut, and Baltimore. I’ll interview and get advice from my friends in New York. I’ll start a big fight with Stephanie over the merits of Seattle rock versus Brooklyn rock. I’ll claim Tupac was nothing compared to Biggie; and I’ll delete “California Love” from my iTunes. Perhaps I’ll just say I’m from Pennsylvania and welcome the confusion, enjoy the looks of people as their eyes widen and check my molars for signs of fangs. Out with the Amish questions and in with the Vampire assumptions.

I’m one of two exchange students in the school of over seven hundred and I was denied a school ID today because they weren’t sure whether or not exchange students get them or not, we’re their first ones. They weren’t sure about insurance as well. Seems I’ll be wrapping myself in the good old red, white and blue for protection. Pass the “Freedom Fries” please.

For a trip that was largely based on getting far away from the U.S. and the East Coast, I was suddenly brought a whole lot closer to it. The diversity in terms of my classmates’ personal histories and cultural identifications are so varied, by comparison, I seem to be the clear-cut one. I in no way feel some grand need to fulfill some sort of “representing your country well” promise that teachers usually sternly tell you before you embark on school trips outside the country, but it’s an interesting place to be in. Who knows, perhaps I’ll embrace my few months as the exchange student. No need for a jacket if I’m wearing my large American Flag sweater! If I’m invited to a party my classmates will teach me phrases like “Would you like to touch my penis” in French and then send me off to greet their French friends with my new phrase. I’ll give a loud, guttural American laugh at their shocked expressions thinking they just didn’t understand my French through my heavy accent. It’s very Californian you know, very rich, very beachy, very…Malibu.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

When You're Happy and You Know It Write a Blog

If television and the media have taught me one thing (besides my reason for existence! LOL) it’s that during a sweet sixteen party, as their friends hoist them on their shoulders, or as a newlywed looks down at their new finger bling, it’s that these moments are directly followed by the joyful exclamation, “This is the happiest day of my life!”
Big. Deal. If I were to pass by an anonymous stranger in the park and overheard him saying casually to his friend/lover/neighbor/dog “This is the happiest day of my life,” I’d be much more impressed. I’d want to know what that guy’s secret is. I’d be envious of that guy’s life. I’d be waiting for his caretaker to come back and remind him not to talk to strange dogs in the park.

While I’m neither that guy who talks to dogs in the park, or that joyful partier, I feel a sense of satisfaction that seems worthy of sharing. Location aside, my life consists of nothing miraculous and most days my routine would bore a sixty-year-old librarian but having this contentment at these times makes it all the more significant. Anyone can feel elated shoving a piece of $400 wedding cake in their new spouse’s face, ABC Family channel can tell you that. Jennifer Lopez, even before the J.Lo years, put out a video for her mind-numbing song “Feeling So Good” that featured, what I interpreted as, her perfect “normal” day: Jennifer getting ready to go out, listening to her favorite music (her song…a bit narcissistic), getting together with her friends, passing a store and seeing a great fur coat on sale, and finally Jennifer reaching the club and smiling all throughout a choreographed dance with her pals. This video has no relevance to me and I would never compare my version of happiness to that of Jennifer Lopez but I did recently find a thrift store that sells vintage fur coats for around 80 Euro. A fur coat has a universal affect in terms of happiness.

Being fully aware of my eating habits, my day is often brightened just by looking in the mirror and not seeing a 300 lbs. popsicle. I don’t want to shatter the image I assume everyone has of French dining but I can sum up my experience so far with a recent purchase of a three pack of microwavable pizzas for 1.30 Euro. Don’t shame me for some factors are against me: money, facilities, and time. The conversion rate has reared it’s ugly head at my bank account and my funds are nearly famished (expect an email soon mom and dad!) so I often play a game of “How many items under 2 Euro can I get” while at the grocery store. I have yet to reach the point of purchasing the industrialized sized can of beef ravioli that features merely a grainy image of ravioli and a Times New Roman title of “RAVIOLI BOEUF” but I know exactly where it is in the store. Our kitchen cannot be accurately described in words but a good place to start is with the word…small. We are sans oven, dishwasher, and toaster oven and can only have one appliance plugged in at a time. The pots, pans and silverware are all time capsules, treasures deemed unpackable from previous tenets. I’d like to know the story behind the Casino Royale shot glasses, or the mug featuring a Family Circus style illustration of a girl and boy kissing – naked, partially covered only by a winter scarf acting as a loincloth. With my new routine I often wake up early and try to spend as little time possible making breakfast, I have lunch packing down to a 6-minute art and when I arrive home from school and errands my hunger pains often dictate how fast I prepare dinner.

Time also poses another problem during the post-dinner-pre-sleep period where if I went to real school would be filled with homework, or if I lived in a normal media environment Internet browsing or channel surfing; instead it’s filled with shameful trips to the refrigerator. A few chips would make a nice snack…but they go best with soda, and suddenly I’m tired of chips but still have soda left…I’ll balance that out with a cookie or peanuts. With the amount of carbs I eat in a given day my food diagram would resemble a ranch house more than a pyramid. Before I had a school routine I would often have to ask myself if I already ate pasta twice today as I reached for a fresh bag. The incredibly delicious and cheap jelly here has increased my daily toast count three-fold. I recently justified eating another ice cream sandwich immediately after having consumed one by saying to myself “an even number is better than an odd, and having one pistachio and one chocolate evens out the number left in the box”. It’s this kind of thinking that has Jenny Craig members filling out membership-renewal forms at Krispy Kreme. I have a twisted vision of a bunch of blind-folded children whacking my dead body with a stick until it splits apart sending candy and other treats flying across the room; the children squealing with delight as they scoop up the sugary contents of my corpse. In the future I may refer to these days as “happier times” merely in reference to my metabolism but until then I find comfort in food and comfort in my body being able to maintain acceptable appearance and bodily functions despite being 75% Coca-Cola.

Tuition for the EICAR film school was worth it for providing a cure for my insomnia alone. Five to seven hour days of class with an hour and fifteen minute commute there and back have made sleep problems a thing of blog history. While I’m not exactly exerting physical activity during the school day, the lectures, discussions, and strenuous doodling send me crawling for bed before 11 p.m. During the weekends if it’s a good night I’ll leave the respected establishment between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. and if it’s not I’ll usually consider an early ending justification for walking back; both of which have me exhausted (and hungry) when I finally return. Sometimes I feel bad when I look at the Tylenol PM bottle, once my favorite bedside companion, now laying defeated on the floor collecting dust. While I’d rarely want to disclose this information to those teenagers and twenty-somethings with exciting social lives, the warmness and comfort of climbing into bed at 10:30 knowing your body and mind are fully prepared to sleep throughout the night is an indescribable joy.

In a primal way I have satisfied my basic desires; sleeping and eating. As a man, this immediately makes me happy. Cara will often come into the kitchen to a slaughtered chicken on the kitchen floor, a trail of bones will lead to my bed--another happy night for the alpha-male of the house. Man sleep. Woman clean bones, prepare ice cream sandwich platter.

Surprisingly enough I have found pleasure outside of food and sleep, school has proved to be enjoyable. Most of the professors have been rather engaging, and when they aren’t they are more than entertaining. The amusing broken English that comes not only from the teachers but also from the students keeps me alert. The assignments are actually things to look forward to, and I have yet to fully grasp the expanse of Paris’ film culture. Despite my French Film nativity I’m actively learning, why just today I was browsing the DVD selection of the local Fnac store; Mean Girls…9.99, Adams Family Values…9.99, the culture here is not only accessible, but affordable. I’ve gotten along quite well with most of my classmates and have made some good friends fast. I’m embracing them now for once they find out about my torrid past I’ll be back to silently wandering the grocery store aisles, entertaining myself with the ambiguity of the shampoo and conditioner bottles. Breaking the food realm and triumphantly forging into the beverage category, I have found simple delight in the coffees dispensed from the machines populating our campus; for a mere .40 Euro I can get an authentic Café Au Lait, topped off with a mechanical “Merci, Merci, Merci!” During the breaks in between classes the entrance to the building is suddenly turned into an alcoholic anonymous meeting spot, clumps of people clutching cheap coffee and chain-smoking while they complain about the cold and discuss drunken weekend escapades. It may not be the most successful alcoholics anonymous group, but they’re taking it one coffee cup at a time.

This may have been the most “bloggy” of my blogs, but talking about your feelings just seems so much more hip when you can publish it online and chose your font color. I contemplated putting little emoticons of smiley faces throughout this entry just to utilize the technology. While the fact that the French dub every and all shows has yet to deter me from watching some television, there are some things I know are being said on certain shows. There are times when it’s expected to be the happiest day of your life and frankly I’m not wow’d; add an all you can eat buffet, conversation over cheap coffee, an on time-metro and a welcoming bed and now we’re speaking the same language.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Aurora BORISalis

The day I was introduced to my professors at EICAR could have easily passed as the final round of the “Cliché Country Ambassador” competition. It was down to Claudio the representative from Uruguay, who despite his heavy accent and unabashed affinity for fellow Latinos was doomed from the start seeing as Uruguay possesses no well-known clichés. Also in the line up was the eloquent, prep-school grad Andrew from Great Britain, the wide-smiling and shampoo-commercial-worthy-haired Adriano from Italy, and John the half American, half English representative who’s facial blemish is unfortunately placed directly in between his eyebrows giving him the impression of a well-mannered Oxford grad who accessorizes with a unexpected bindi. Despite all these more than worthy candidates, who have all done their respective countries well, they couldn’t hold a cliché candle to Boris. Boris Rechkovich to be precise. Hailing from two ambiguous Eastern European countries Boris was the born winner, although soon being able to be in the presence of such a man, I truly felt like the winner.

Currently having only a few hours experience with Boris my judgments are still in the first impression stage. During the course of the semester I’ll get to know Boris better and probably grow to know more about him and be able to judge him in less of a superficial way, but until that time comes I will milk my ignorance and speculate as to Boris: the man, the myth, the Eastern European.

People fortunate enough to have been witness to me recounting and re-enacting a story that involves someone, or even better multiple people, who has an accent can attest to my astonishing ability to reduce every and all accents into an insulting Asian/Indian fusion. Often times I become aware at how incredibly off my accent is half-way through the story and I’ll merely stop, apologizing and start again sans accent. Unable to contain my excitement at the creature I was introduced to I began to try to recreate Boris’ truly magical dialect for Cara. As expected halfway through I stopped, expecting Cara to ask if Boris hung around a lot of Indian or Asian people. While I’m not unaware of this blog’s technical abilities, nor do I have the courage to secretly record part of Boris’ lecture I doubt your ears will ever have the pleasure of hearing Boris pronounce the word “Shit!” A pleasure I do not take for granted, even though I’ve experienced said pleasure nearly a dozen times. I might even register his accent as a learning disability for myself, I find myself sitting in class distracted, fantasizing about hearing him participate in a spelling bee. Instead of classic spelling bee words I’d hand pick my favorite words to say like Vulva, or words that contain lots of R rolling. Fist pounding would be mandatory after every word and each word would have to be shouted for all of Russia to hear. The whole event would be recorded so I could use it as my new ring-tone.

Despite the distraction his accent, which I had only previously heard coming from exhausted Olympic figure skaters in post performance interviews, had on my first day of class I still managed to take a bunch of notes. Half of those notes were pulled quotes from his quirky vocabulary and lost in translation phrases. I felt they were of as much importance in my film education as Goddard ever will be. Perhaps I was an unfair note taker for I’d pay particular attention to words relating to war, death and other various forms of macabre. I was hoping to pick up some sort of pattern that would point to his past as a veteran of a bloody civil war or his unspoken night job within the caves of a mad scientist. Luckily he described the film set as a “warfield” and instead of calling for volunteers he would call for “heroes”. When describing a photo exercise he did during film school in which he told a tale, in merely five photographs, of a woman committing suicide after receiving a disturbing piece of mail. He drew crude representations of those photographs and asked the class to try to guess what the story was from them. While all were close he pointed out how his photographs weren’t perfectly chosen because the person didn’t receive a sign that she was to be murdered she (in what I have coined as Boris’ catchphrase) merely “made suicide”. Yes, she made suicide like you or I might make casserole. Only this time he explained, as he pointed to the last drawing, it “happened in blood puddle”. Rarely, and thankfully so I assume, does one get to use the phrase “puddle of blood” but if such an occasion might occur, its nice to know that merely dropping the “of” and switching the words can lighten the mood a bit with such an amusing word pair. While I’ll undoubtedly try to incorporate new hot phrases like “make suicide” or “happen in blood puddle” into my language when I return to the States remembering how truly authentic it sounded coming from Boris’ mouth will only make me realize how I’ll never be able to pull it off. Besides with the standard-issue Asian accent I deliver in stories, my friends will only question why an Asian sounding person would be named Boris.

I’m not sure if Boris, the ever-amusing jokester, was pulling a fast one on us new students this year by slouching in a noticeable way throughout the day, but regardless, his Quasimodo stature only intrigued me more as to his personal history. His boarding school professors might have reprimanded him with cruel and unusual punishments for his sailor like use of the word “shit”. The crimp in his back might have been caused by countless hours hunched over a Steenbeck editing machine working on propaganda films for a small dictator. Despite the oppressive memories of splicing footage of mind-controlled citizens of his homeland in a poorly lit cave his love of film and desire to teach triumphs. Brave Boris, as he’s known around the faculty lounge.

While I’m unsure of the origins or circumstances of Boris’ unusual facial structure/features I will throw moral caution into the wind and disregard the very apparent fact that it could be a tragic tale because I feel like Boris has embraced it as much as I have. Above his right eye is a medium-sized bulbous patch much resembling a welt one might get from a football to the head. Whether related to this or not his right eye seems to be continually squinting, a big contrast to his round, lively left eye. These descriptions are not meant to poke fun at what could possibly be a very private and personal topic to Boris but what seems and sounds like a handicap to most only seems to be an unattainable physical feature when applied to Boris. As if he requested the alteration to God and God accepted only because it’s Boris and such a change would only enhance Boris’ overall character. Both eyes are a solid blue usually only achieved with delicate watercolor.

Like his vocabulary to his accent, Boris’ mannerisms suit his physical stature impressively well. The first day of classes he was sharing the teaching time with the Italian (whose look, attitude and teaching style are so completely opposite to Boris’ that the experiencing this interaction was like a well-timed production of the Education Odd-Couple). Although they followed a syllabus the time was rarely divided up in any sort of predicable pattern for Boris would often interrupt himself to warn Adriano that he “was really feeling it now, in the mood and cannot stop,” much to the delight of the rest of the class. Pacing back and forth he’d fly through a recap of the previous year’s teaching. His statements were grand and his tangents morally inspiring; a brief mention of respect between actors and directors by Adriano would inspire Boris to proclaim his position not only as a professor of directing but a teacher of morals and ethics describing to us his predicted feelings of failure if he did not think about instilling in us fair and respectable morals. One particularly lengthy digression was about Boris’ belief in all of us as not just great filmmakers, and students but as great people too; he ended the touching moment by making a standard Boris joke about “I hope I will not make crying!” He laughed along with the class but I secretly hoped he wasn’t kidding and would break down any second. Despite my unceasing awkwardness whenever in the presence of someone crying I figured with Boris it would be different. Witnessing Boris cry would be comparable to unexpectedly catching the Aurora Borealis, a rare sight that later becomes a tall you pass down to your grandchildren. He tears might be those of a normal human being or perhaps they’re composed of a completely new substance. Catching them in a jar could be the first step in finding a cure for cancer. Boron would be renamed so as to not be confused with the new element on the table…the Boris Element.

During his “on the roll” teaching moment that lasted nearly an hour, Boris would often bob his head in thought as if phrasing each sentence or question was a full body activity. When someone would answer the question correctly or perhaps even finish his sentence he’d pause for a moment, give a slight smile and proclaim “Yes, I’ll accept that,” and the whole activity had a near party-game like quality to it. First day and first impressions usually bring out the most flustered, anxious side of me. Walking around clutching a map and walking aimlessly around like an upperclassmen joke my self-consciousness usually renders my social observation to the status of paranoid-schizophrenic. The fact that I even remembered my professors’ names usually registers as a personal victory but for some reason I always feel sad to see the first day end. Upon my return to Boris’ class I might realize that his accent isn’t as strong, and the next class I might not even notice his unusual eyes, and with every class I might come to judge him more and more on the workload and not his mannerisms. Part of me wanted to capture these details to leave written prove as to his existence, beyond mere documentation. To give the legend of Paul Bunyan some much needed competition. But another part of me thinks Boris will not go the path of so many other professor impressions and will increase his child-scaring vocabulary, will hint at a past that may or may not have included a fight with nuclear explosives and if he ever so much as hints at crying again I’ll be there with a Bell jar, ready to capture that elusive Boris element.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


It’s rare that I find the only appropriate way of describing something is by using a cliché phrase, but fashion week in Paris is its own little bubble. A bubble made out of crocodile skin, metallic leather and inflated with experienced egos, but a bubble nonetheless. While the fashion week nightlife took my social status from mute monk to Mary-Kate Olsen, I’m seriously afraid that, judging from my Stockholm blog entries, the time I’ll need in order to fully write about those nights will bring my social status back to that of the monk. Instead I’ll explain how I witnessed the Napoleon of fashion photography, how my beat up leather bag became more popular than I, and how I lied on camera to Spanish fashion television.

After coming to the realization that I was in danger of becoming a Parisian housewife, I was determined to utilize Paris fashion week, no matter how little it related to me. Cara has been knee-deep in her extensive orientation at the Sorbonne, while my classes seem like a far off reality. Being unemployed for the first time in five years in a completely foreign city I found myself wandering an empty apartment obsessively cleaning. Greeting Cara when she’d return back she’d inform me that I was shouting, having become used to silence I wasn’t even aware of my voice’s pitch. While I was trying to utilize Paris’ incredible culture and art, I quickly found myself growing tired of going to museums by myself. I had found a schedule of the Paris fashion week online a few days before and after having a successful time meeting strangers at a fashion party the previous night I decided to try my luck alone at an actual show. If not for the general experience of it, at least there would be some clothing eye candy. Besides, I could use some exposure to normal voice modulation.

The information I had gave only the addresses, so I picked a designer I recognized that took place somewhere within the Tuilleries gardens. While the Tuilleries are more like beautiful football fields rather than petite backyard gardens, there was a Tuilleries metro stop and that was good enough for me. My sense of designer handbags actually got me to the show rather than my sense of direction; after getting off the subway I wander around the entrance of the park for a minute or two before I spotted two people carrying $2,000 handbags and walking with a purpose. I slung the beat-up leather weekender bag I brought over my shoulder and decided to inconspicuously follow them. During the walk there I noticed that one lost woman who I pegged as a journalist actually spotting me and following me there. She obviously knew nothing about expensive bags.

Arriving when the show was actually supposed to start ended up being perfectly early. There was a mob of people outside the fenced off tent. Channels of metal fences led to bouncer protected entrances. Although the fashion elite was either comfortably inside the tent or forming the long lines waiting to get in, the area outside the tent resembled an upscale fashion cocktail party. Like most parties I attend, I decided to find a comfortable spot toward the outside and eat. After realizing that merely eating in the presence of these people might increase the worldwide bulimia epidemic I put away my French Pocky and busied my hands with my camera. If I wanted to appear like I belonged I made the right choice for looking around half of the people were photographers.

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To my left I recognized a street style photo blogger ( that had actually got us into the Karl Lagerfeld approved party last night. He was photographing a stoic woman in a fashion forward birka and oversized black sunglasses. While a majority of the crowd was dressed in blacks and grays, you couldn’t help but notice the various Vogue-approved footwear that strutted past, each one exceeding 3 inches and costing the approximate amount of my current bank account.

“Can I photograph your bag,” someone questioned me from aside. “Of course” I said startled. A quick shot with her intimidating camera and she left, no further question necessary. I look down and began examining my bag wondering if something expensive or fabulous had began to grow on it’s aged and stained exterior. No Jimmy Choo shoe was ensnarled in it’s torn straps. Moving spots for more unobscured people watching I shook the situation off as a merely uninformed photographer. I spent a few minutes watching and photographing those people who garnered the attention of a crowd of Asian photographers unaware of who they were and why I should actually be documenting their presence. Just before the lines outside the tents emptied inside a man approached me asking if he could get a photograph of my bag as well. Again I was more than happy to accept, although all too aware of the fact that my actual presence was not necessary in the photograph. He thanked me and left as quickly as the previous photographer and I wondered if they were together, working freelance for “Bags in Need of Botox Quarterly.” Becoming more and more amused at the situation and less paranoid I welcomed any attention myself or my accessories received.

Soon music emerged from inside the tent and the area outside, while not at all empty, was considerably less populated. Now nearly everyone was a photographer. I figured their presence meant that the emptying out of the tent was as entertaining as the filling of the tent. I also realized that the only entertainment at the apartment was dubbed re-runs of “Desperate Housewives”. A titled I was all too afraid of acquiring.

From not having any clue to the actual happenings inside, I found the Carpenter’s music that emanated from the tent a strange choice; perhaps it was the only music that could fit into the clothes. As I entertained myself with visions of what was actually happening inside, I noticed the photographers rushing past me to a couple approaching the tent. I had my palm sized Fugifilm 3 Megapixel camera ready. Turns out it was Kanye West and what appeared to be a transsexual prostitute, but was merely just his girlfriend. Arriving ironically unfashionably late, the show was just about half over. I snagged a few photos that would make the paparazzi proud.

By far the most entertaining portion of the afternoon festivities ended up being what I affectionately refer to as the releasing of the models. Despite the Asian photographers fervor I witnessed all afternoon, it seems as if they truly come to life when the models exit the tent. While I pride myself on an elementary education of the latest supermodels I had no idea who they were but based on the Asians’ reaction to their appearance, I’d surmise that it falls within the Elvis - Jesus realm of idolatry. Due to their height and weight ration, most normal movements of models seem a bit odd and awkward but when they are literally being chased by a horde of camera wielding Asians they resemble scarred giraffes. I might have laughed out loud once or twice at the sudden jungle like environment but I still took a few priceless photographs and was glad to see the models escape the tiny clutches of their fans.

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When I got back to the apartment I still couldn’t resist describing the day’s happenings in a dog-rousing shriek, yet I felt it was more understandable when I wasn’t merely telling her that I added another blanket to my bed. The next couple of days her schedule permitted us to go to a few shows together and after a day of solely observing the environment I was able to better prepare us both. Seeing as many of the photographers solely came to photograph people outside the show we felt it justified to get dressed up in adventurous ensembles. We supplemented color for expense. Cara was outfit was distinctly French, finished off with bright orange pointy flats where as I channeled my non-existent naval roots in a nautical get-up. I topped mine off with white boots and a ridiculously oversized scarf that I found in my basement.

We arrived to the Celine show unnecessarily early because we thought (after a friend’s success the previous night) that you could wait in a standing line and if you were early enough you would actually be able to go inside the tent. When we actually arrived nearly an hour before the scheduled time there were only a handful of people outside. Luckily the show was in the same place and we were able to entertain ourselves within the Tullieres gardens to delay our entrance. “It’s better to arrive when all the photographers are already there; that way for that minute you arrive and head towards the tent you can fool the photographers into thinking you’re someone,” I explained to Cara. It was a dreary day and we found we couldn’t entertain ourselves as long as we expected too so we still re-entered early to the group but as we sat down on a bench on the outskirts of the tent area a woman approached us and asked to take our photograph. She even gave us a mini interview as to who we were, what we were doing there (who knows) and what we were wearing. She was from Connecticut but was working freelance for an “obscure fashion magazine for 20-30 year old Japanese women, named Soup”. I was already dreaming of using the phrase “I’m big in Japan” literally. As it approached the show’s scheduled time we began to notice that those in the standing line were all carrying what was undeniably invitations. Despite losing hope in ever actually attending a show we decided to stick around until it started. During the course of our wait we were photographed roughly about half a dozen times, sometimes together sometimes separate.
Most of the time a person would ask, occasionally they’d do a sort of hand gesture that translated to asking and sometimes they wouldn’t ask and would snap on the sly. While the photographer would seldom actually tell you why or for whom they were taking the picture, rarely did anyone seem affected by being photographed. Not usually photographed by strangers I still found it amusing, yet given the environment not entirely unexpected. What I didn’t expect was to be interviewed on camera for Spanish television.

A woman carrying a microphone interrupted my absentminded gaze at the tent.
“Do you speak English” she asked. “Uh yes,” I sheepishly replied; fearing the worst, which was exactly what she asked further, if I minded being interviewed about the Celine show and fashion week, even though we informed her that we do not work for any fashion publications and do not know much (anything) about Celine. She motioned to a Spanish man, head obscured by his large video camera, to come up next to her as Cara turned away beyond pleased at the situation. While I already told her I didn’t know much about Celine, I still felt obligated to answer her question, which was now hanging in front of me. I looked around at the crowd, who dressed almost entirely in black, resembled a fashionable funeral.

“Very Paris, Very Paris,” I said, immediately contemplating what that even means.
“Is this your first Fashion week? And what do you expect from it, what have you thought so far?”
“It is my first fashion week, I just moved to Paris but I’m from the New York area (LIE #1) so I can’t help but compare it to the New York shows.”
“We just came from New York fashion week! It was so much celebrities! Have you seen many celebrities here?”
“Oh well, yeah actually I saw Kanye West at the Victor and Rolf show, but that’s about it I think.”
“Yes he has been to so many so far. So how does this week compare to New York?”
“Well I mean New York’s fashion week is crazy (LIE #2 – Never been in New York during fashion week) but this is just…just…crazy. Ridiculous”
“So obviously you love fashion,” she said as she and the camera panned me, up and down. “Can you tell us about what you’re wearing?”
“Well as I student I don’t have much money to spend on clothes so most of what I’m wearing is pretty cheap, and most of it is vintage (LIE #3 – while most of it is cheap, only a few things are vintage, the rest coming from the cheap chain stores)
“Ah, but is it all about the big bag!?” she asks excitedly motioning to my confusingly popular weekender bag.
“Oh well actually this was my Dad’s so it has just been in the family”
“Wow, that’s great, it’s so big!”
“’s great I can fit like…a week’s worth of stuff in it! (LIE #4 I probably could not pack a week’s worth of things in it and using that as a reference is beyond me)

The interview ended soon after that, perhaps my ever-increasingly red face acted as a literal stop sign for the interviewer. Once the two of them were properly out of sight I turned dumbfounded to Cara who had a wide grin on her face. “I’m SO happy that wasn’t me!” Despite my recollection of it she assured me it wasn’t THAT bad but we both laughed at my preposterous responses. More insane to me than the fact that I very much made up a good portion of what I said, is that the lies I told weren’t even interesting or worth lying about. For the new few hours I would periodically run the questions again in my mind, thinking of better responses, occasionally laughing out loud to the whole situation. I reassured myself that the footage would merely become the joke within the editing room or make it to the highlights reel of the bloopers; perhaps they’ll dub in a Spanish man talking sense over my image; or perhaps headlines all across Spain will declare that the Celine show was “Paris, very Paris”.

Despite my fashion interview shame we decided to go back the next day to catch the Sonia Rykel show. Knowing I probably won’t go to another show, and having two under my belt I wanted to make this one the best. Cara and I had picked out our outfits the night before; the only fashion show we actually participated in. Fully understanding the need to dress as a pair, I waited until Cara had picked out her outfit (“a very 40’s look,” as the Sartorialist will tell her []) and I chose a similarly retro look.
Riding the metro there and seeing the eyes that followed us I wondered how I could feel self-conscious and overdressed in Paris yet once we got within fifty feet of the fashion show we seemed perfectly suited and welcomed with open arms and open shutters. Previously considering all of Paris a fashionable bubble, I now realize there can exist a bubble inside a bubble.

We arrived right when the show was scheduled to begin, so about a half an hour to forty-five minutes before the show would actually start. Within thirty seconds of entering the fashion show bubble, the Sartorialist pulled Cara aside to take her picture. A big fan of his blog, I thought I spotted him at the first two shows but wouldn’t believe it because this man is pint-sized, like a novelty travel sized human, whereas the man I pictured traveling around the world to take photos was completely different. During the brief photo shoot Cara noted that not only does he have Napoleon’s stature but he has Napoleon complex as well. As soon as he was done taking a photo of her, our old friend the Facehunter swooped in for a shot as well. When we reconnected and attempted to traverse the crowd we were photographed surprisingly often. We took a break from the actual excitement and were back to our real purpose of observing. A few Japanese photographers asked us a question or two but thankfully there were to be no on camera interviews…apparently word got around.

Looking around I began to recognize a lot of the people and had little stories I could say about them from either interaction with them at a party or within the gardens or from observed interactions. A moment more and I would have fooled myself into thinking that I had a strange place within the environment. I have yet to perfect the unamused expression that so many of those photographed have, but I figure a smile and some color would be a welcome change to the area, the Asians agreed. Once again I justified my presence by taking a few pictures. The crowd was once again unfamiliar to color for the sea of sleek black made us stand out even more. Having left before the end of the Celine show I made Cara stick around with me till my favorite part…the running of the models. The Caucasian towers once again found themselves within a sea of constantly moving Asian photographers. No fatalities, no broken bones, only a few scuffs on their Christian Loubatain heels.

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Walking away from the tents and seeing the tourists up ahead in their hooded sweatshirts and comfortable sneakers, I was sad to think about the absence of this little bubble. I wondered if I would ever return to Paris fashion week with a real purpose or perhaps even an invitation or two; if I do I’m glad I got to experience it without those things. Those who walked briskly in might have missed the ancient photographer who despite his constantly delayed reaction and missed shots kept smiling, giving him the appearance of a proud Grandpa on his grandchild’s prom day. Perhaps inside the tent it wasn’t a Karen Carpenter purge fest but in fact something less interesting.

Besides, I don’t want to bust their bubble but have you heard of Soup magazine? I’m big in Japan.