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)