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.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Because I Forgot I Owned Tylenol PM

There’s a certain look that a room has when you’re absentmindedly staring at it, half-awake, in the middle of the night. It resembles a stippling drawing or the black and white cable channels that come in fuzzy…. except without the broken porn images. Usually.

Scarier than the look of a room at 5 a.m. is the thoughts that entertain your mind at that hour; tonight a depressing amount of them have been Facebook related. Pre-planning wall posts and messages and then refining them to 3rd draft status. These will most likely never see the light of day for even in my clearly unsound nighttime mind I question their relevance. I justify my superficial mental wanderings by passing them off as timely thoughts of overseas correspondence. If I was in the same situation 50 years prior I’d be thinking about what I would write in my letters; perhaps even leaning over to light the candle, breaking out the quill and ink and writing a few nonsensical drafts wasting precious scroll.

While I’m not (legally) a doctor, and I have yet to WebMD my symptoms, I have diagnosed myself with an acute case of insomnia. For the past few days I’ve been having the most inconvenient sleep schedule, usually falling asleep around 1:30 and then waking up around 4, or 5, entertaining myself with reading again or (to your current benefit [or not]) writing, and then falling back asleep anywhere from 7-8:30 am waking up about 2 or 3 hours later. Usually a severe sneezing and simultaneously stuffy nose accompanies the insomnia. During the day I’m reasonably fine, feeling no sleepier than my well rested self of the past. The waking hours my nose seems to forget it ever had a problem as well. Again, as I must remind myself, the “Crayola Factory: Doctor of Drawing Certificate” I received in Elementary School doesn’t legally make me a doctor, yet I still feel compelled to assess the possible causes of my sleeplessness. “Nurse please take this down…and use the Cornflower blue crayon.”

Chief, and currently sole, in the list of suspects is my physical, immediate surroundings…my room. Cara summed up the Parisian apartment situation by saying the price you pay for keeping beautiful old exteriors is crappy old interiors, and we literally live and “sleep” those unfortunate circumstances. We signed the contract to our apartment sight unseen except for a few JPEGs on the apartment agency website and while we had good motivation for taking such rash actions (impending homelessness) there are certain things a photo cannot show you. Let it be known that our apartment is comfortable in size, has a layout that works well for our makeshift 2-bedroom status and features a 700 Euro antique buffet stand, so during the waking hours I’m quite content with the space.

The previously mentioned “things” that do not show up in the JPEGs are ambiguous mold, visible instillation, unknown wall materials and makeshifts ceilings. While the mold and installation spots are fairly contained and small I’m more worried about my bedroom wall and “ceiling”. Upon entering the bedroom anyone with a vision exceeding the legally blind status will take note of the interesting look of the walls, which can best be described as fake white-washed wood. The actual material is anything but a fine French timber. It is texturized, with ridges and marks resembling wood but with a touch that resembles more of stucco/felt hybrid. Running your hands across it lightly, you’d understand the stucco reference, but press your fingers deeper into certain portions and you’d have the unwelcome sensation of experiencing what feels like the love child between a sponge and common felt. I have also never been in the contracting, carpentry or even woodworking field but I feel safe in assuming that these spongy sections of my walls are signs that the walls are actually alive. I’m living in a giant fungus and come December I’ll simply wake up grab a chunk of my wall on the way to the kitchen, grab an egg and fix myself a delicious egg and mushroom omelet. Always a bright side…or a porous side.

Our first actual night in the apartment Cara and I decided to celebrate with a bottle of French Champagne. The only champagne featured on college campuses is the five-dollar bottles of Andre, which, if I remember correctly, do not feature the classic “popping” cork; they might in fact actually have a flip top and easy to grip “sport” sides. Thankfully Paris does not carry Andre but instead real, or at least better-disguised fake, Champagne. To me the downside to Champagne is the popping of the cork to which I have a fear accurately gauged only in terms of high-pitched squeals and look-away head turns. Naturally as the man of the apartment I made Cara open the bottle, suggesting she open the bottle out the window. Although I imagined the cork skyrocketing out of the bottle and careening across the expansive street and into a neighbor’s window, I much preferred that to the inevitable lamp-shattering cork popping, followed by the brief foamy tidal wave that would occur if she opened it near me. She didn’t see my logic. I turned away, heard the pop and turned to see if Cara made it out alive. “What happened?” I asked in response to her shocked look, but I answered my own question as I followed her gaze to a literal tear in our ceiling. If you were wondering what materials a cork can break through, you can add “synthetic nylon ceilings” to the list. Since the landlady was coming on Monday to go over the inventory of the apartment we immediately and maturely fixed the problem by patching the tear with a torn piece of nearby paper. “If I don’t have my glasses on, I can’t even tell there’s a tear. That’s a good sign,” Cara reassured me.

While the Champagne bottle story is not directly related to my insomnia, besides filling a brief portion of it, it does explain how I came to realize that I have no idea what condition the actual ceilings are in. This is not a mystery I am looking to solve for the sight of what is actually up above will probably only add nightmares to my sleeping handicap.

Dawn has yet to break but my eyes have adjusted to the dark: the covers and my feet no longer appear to be created by many soft dots, the clean nylon ceiling not as fuzzy, the tissue graveyard beside my bed more in focus and my mental wandering slowing down. A few welcome yawns are as much a signal as I need to try again. I’ll be asleep soon and when I wake up the only things I’ll be able to piece together is that I need to WebMd something, cook myself a mushroom and egg omelet and sharpen my Cornflower blue crayon.