Wednesday, October 31, 2007
I wanted to take a bit of video or a picture but knowing the French police I probably would have gotten carted off to jail for doing so, so I decided against it. Nothing in the papers about it either, just another routine night in the ghetto!
A lovely neighborhood I live in…
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
PS—forgot to mention that I went out for drinks with the Rocker last week… he’s just really fun and crazy. I happened to have a dinner date with B later that night but I totally lost track of time and showed up about 45 mins late. I got a text from B saying, ‘Where are you?’... awful, I know.
The Rocker invited me to spend a weekend in Marseilles with him (in the South of France, about 5 hours from Paris)… apparently his parents have a house in a small town outside of Marseilles and his friend is having a party there in a few weeks. It was cute b/c he was like, “If I ask my mom, would you be interested in coming down with us for the weekend? You’d really like this party”.
I had invited him to come to Amsterdam with us but he said he couldn’t because he was so broke (but he did tell me to sample the mushrooms at the coffeeshops… he’s such a druggie). The funny/sad part is that when the bill came I felt bad so I paid. I know, you don’t even have to say it… me actually paying for a guy?? It was 10€ but still… what is France doing to me!?
Monday, October 29, 2007
Eva, Julien and I drove up to Amsterdam on Thursday at 10am… after a quick lunch at a rest stop in Belgium (its absolutely hilarious how the French and Dutch make fun of the Belgians… I guess everyone has their own version of pesky Canadians) we arrived in Amsterdam around 4pm.
The first thing we did was go to Eva’s graduation at her University… she received her Master’s degree (Cum Laude, smart girl!). I spent the night with Eva’s friends Marleen & Flor… a total stranger comes into their place and the first thing they do is hand me a spare set of keys! Marleen and I went to dinner at an authentic family-style place called “Moeders” ( Mothers in Dutch) and had a traditional Dutch meal of hodpodge (see below)… it looks gross but it was DELICIOUS—mashed potatoes with carrots and cheese with a bunch of different kinds of meat thrown in. The bizarre thing is I’ve been to the exact same restaurant in the East Village called Mama’s… I don’t know who copied whom!
The next morning I rented a bike (there are more bikes on the road than cars, its kinda freaky! Its not uncommon to see mothers strapping their newborn baby’s car seat to the back of their bike and zooming off through traffic…) but insisted on getting a normal bike that would blend in with the locals, not the ones with the huge “RENT ME” stickers on the front. Aside from the fact that my bike broke down both days, or that my butt was so sore that I could hardly walk, or that it was freezing cold, or that I hadn’t ridden a bike in about 7 years so I was pissing off all the other riders with my slowness and total disregard for biker etiquette, it was great! That morning I had breakfast at a cute neighborhood restaurant, on the same street where Brad Pitt owns a house (who knew?). Then I jumped on my bike and wandered around Amsterdam until I couldn’t resist the urge to shop. There’s an area called ‘The Dam’ which is like the Soho of Amsterdam… overall cheesy stores but it has your requisite H&M and Zara so it was all good.
That night was Eva’s graduation/birthday party. Her parents rented out a French restaurant and invited about 35 of her closest friends and family to dinner. The night was full of speeches, singing, laughing, wine... so much fun. And then at midnight, they surprised me by singing happy birthday to me and bringing me presents! It was very sweet and totally unexpected… we finished the night with drinks at Eva’s friend’s apartment around 4am in the Red Light District.
SIDENOTE: of course, the story wouldn’t be complete without my mentioning the super hot Dutch guy at the party (see below, but the pic doesn't do him justice). We sat next to each other at dinner and the whole time, I was just trying to focus on what he was saying and not drool too much. We literally chatted about everything under the sun the entire night. And when the party broke up and everyone was saying their goodbyes, he gave me a big hug and kiss on the cheek said, “I really enjoyed talking to you tonight”. ::sigh:: Granted, his girlfriend was sitting at the other end of the table most of the night (she left early) and she was very sweet, but still… a girl can dream can’t she? :o)
On Saturday we all woke up late and I met Eva and Julien for lunch. We went to a bookstore, took a stroll through the flower market (Holland is known for their tulips after all!) and hung out in a café for the rest of the afternoon. Later that evening we had dinner at Eva’s best friend’s house, took in a few documentaries at the Balkan Film Festival which happened to be going on that weekend, and finished the night at the festival’s after party.
Sunday was another chill day… woke up around 8:30am, had breakfast at another cute café, then met up with Eva and her friends for coffee and gossip until it was time to head back to Paris. But when we got to the car, there was a stupid boot on the tire (we were parked in a metered zone but didn’t feed it)… thankfully Holland isn’t France so the cops came within 30 mins to collect the 100€ fine, remove the boot and send us on our way. We got to Paris around 9pm on Sunday.
I think the nicest part of the entire trip was being able to enjoy the city on my own, as if I were a local—I began to feel very Dutch by the end of the trip! I love travelling alone… and when you’re in such a beautiful city, the best part is getting lost in the little back streets and trying to find your way back again. It gives you time to think and be thankful for the experience. And just enjoy being present. And to sum up Holland, it’s an unbelievably quaint country. The people are so friendly, everyone speaks English so there’s no awkward language barrier, Amsterdam looks like a movie set and it’s so tiny you can cross the entire city by bike within an hour. Of course, there’s a ridiculous amount of cows, sheep and windmills and they’ve got a funny obsession with potatoes and meat… but overall it’s an absolutely lovely place.
Oh, I know you’re all wondering… and the answer is no. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to sample the coffeeshop specialties… I’m not a smoker but I was really looking forward to it. But the weekend was so packed (in a lazy sort of way) I didn’t get a chance to check it out. I was also told I have to experience taking a ferry to the north of Amsterdam and going for a bike ride through Holland’s countryside… so much to do, so little time. It just means I have to go back again soon!
Friday, October 19, 2007
The message goes: "Do you speak English?", "Yes! I speak Wall Street English!" and has a picture of a woman grinning and flashing the thumbs up... it cracks me up every time I see it. I passed the actual school on the way to work the other day...
This time, the protest is against the new reforms Sarkozy is implementing for all gov’t employees. For years, they’ve been entitled to get a very generous pension and the expense has been crippling the French economy. Sarkozy decided to reduce the amount of money retirees receive in order to help alleviate the national debt and the unions are pissed (caveat: I got this information from my boss, who strikes me as a Sarkozy supporter, so I have a feeling I’m hearing the very conservative side of the argument. Anyway, that’s the gist).
So Wednesday night, I was having dinner at B’s house. I got a call from a friend saying that RATP decided to begin the strike at 8pm, which meant I couldn’t get home that night (yes, I spent the night. No, nothing happened… let’s stay focused, shall we?). So the next morning we walked to work together. Thankfully, B’s apartment is not out in the boondocks like mine is, so it took us about an hour to get to work (we stopped in a park to have coffee and croissants, otherwise it would have been a 30 minute walk). Traffic was insane, the few buses/trains that were running were packed, everyone was walking, rollerblading, biking, doing anything they could to get to their destinations. It was madness.
B told me if I could wait until he finished work at 6:30pm he would walk me home, but I wanted to leave at 3pm and had it in my head that I was a smart, independent city girl who could find my own way. I didn’t take into account that night was setting in, nor the fact that the streets in Paris make no sense—street signs may be completely missing or roads veer off in random directions with no warning… but I set out anyway, getting lost about 15 times. And I swear, if one more person said to me, "Porte de la Chapelle?! No! That's too far!", I was going to scream. An hour and a half later I was still about 45 minutes from home, it was pitch black out and the neighborhood I was entering started to get very sketchy… I was ready to cry and give up when I spotted a cab across the street—thank sweet Jesus! We sat in traffic for about 20 minutes, but half an hour later, I was home.
So this morning, after seeing 2 buses jammed with people pass by, I decided to try to walk the 2 hours to work. Fortunately, after about 5 minutes I found a cab (and nearly got run over by a scooter as I darted out in front of oncoming traffic to get it). Halfway to the office, my cabbie decides to try to squeeze around a large van. He can’t get through so he beeps his horn to make the driver move forward a bit. Instead, the driver accidentally reverses and crashes into the side of the cab. The cabbie jumps out of the car, screaming and cursing and banging on the driver’s window. An undercover cop comes over and tells the cabbie that it’s his fault for trying to squeeze through and that they both need to move their cars to the side of the road because they’re blocking traffic, then casually walks off (?). Meanwhile, the van guy is in the cabbie’s face, smiling and saying that it wasn’t his fault and tries to get back in his van and drive off. The cabbie is LIVID. He throws open the driver’s door and starts punching the guy in the face!! Lord knows where he got the balls, he seemed like such a nice old man. A couple of pedestrians come over to break it up and they call the police to settle the dispute and stood in front of the van so he couldn’t drive off.
Meanwhile, all I’m thinking is, “Shit, does this mean I have to get out and walk now?” Everyone knows the French police take forever to show up because they really don’t give a damn. Frankly, I think the cabbie should have just chalked it up as a loss and kept it moving. But he decided to wait for the police and told me to pay and get out. By this time, the meter had gone up from 10€ to 15€, which he tried to make me pay. I was like, “No, you’re getting 10€, and give me a receipt”. He all but snatched the money and threw the receipt at me. Luckily, we had stopped right in front of one of the only subway lines that’s still working and it was one that stopped 10 minutes from my office.
The strike is supposed to be over at 4pm today, but that’s up in the air, depending on whether or not the union and the French gov’t can reach an agreement.
It’s been just 24 hours and nothing but insanity in the streets of
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Thankfully, the “ghetto” in Paris means that you live in a sort of Section 8 amongst the poor immigrant community—lots of Arabs, Asians and Africans— who are more likely to pickpocket you than slit your throat. Juvenile delinquents hanging on the corner, smoking cigarettes, being loud and obnoxious—that sort of thing. As a friend put it, its 125th Street not the South Bronx. And since I’ve already had my “Welcome to Paris” mugging experience, I’m a bit more aware of my surroundings and it’s not so dangerous.
I’ve always been very proud of myself for having braved the world of “budget living” in New York—the projects in BedStuy (where 16-year-old mothers had their toddlers outside at 2am while they flirted with their drug dealer boyfriends), the West Indian ghetto in Flatbush (to get home from school it took an hour on the train, followed by 15 minute bus ride or, if you were desperate and fearless, a trip in one of the rickety $1 vans) and a crackhouse in Chelsea (my bathroom was in the hallway, enough said)… and I managed to walk away that much tougher and wiser because of it all and ultimately settle into a cute apartment that I adored in the East Village.
Now I’ve just moved into the 18th arrondissement of Paris at the Porte de la Chapelle metro stop. Tell any Parisian that and their first reaction is to raise their eyebrows and go, “Ohh… well. It’s not so bad” with a forced smile that actually means, ‘Yikes, I feel sorry for you’. My apt is on the top floor (4 flights, no lift) of a decrepit building on an even more depressing street. Its about half the size of typical Manhattan studio (everything is smaller in France) and is furnished with a futon, an armoire, a folding chair and an old radio. Each morning I climb over a pile of tools/crap, squeeze past a couple bikes and pick my way down the crumbling staircase to get out of the building… it’s lovely.
My former apt was a temporary base to stay while I looked for my own place (its nearly impossible to find an apt in Paris from NYC). About 2 weeks after I arrived, this current apt was offered to me, I didn’t have to look for it (and I am grateful to have a place, don’t get me wrong. I could very well be homeless). A friend of my aunt’s, a Haitian/Parisian woman named Francine, had a friend who was renovating a place and it happened to be ready at the same time that I had to move out of my sublet. And although it had technically been promised to a student coming from Martinique, they would let me have it instead—I was able to move in without any paperwork or anything. Francine was super excited about the place and said I would love it. Of course, there are no doorknobs, the heater isn’t in, the walls aren’t finished and there is a pile of wood propped against the front door… but I’ve been assured that all that will be taken care of “soon”, which in French-time means about 6 months from now.
So needless to say, I’m apartment hunting… at this point, I’m willing to suck it up and do the roommate thing because it is so hard finding an apartment in Paris—worse than NYC. Landlord’s ask for a ridiculous amount of paperwork, proof of income, references, plus require that you have a guarantor. And if you’re a student/foreigner/under 30, forget about it. The only thing I feel guilty about is ditching Francine after all her help. She’s been so sweet and accommodating and unsuspecting; I probably shouldn’t tell her where she can stick her “beautiful apartment”…
Monday, October 15, 2007
Saturday, October 13, 2007
I arrived at Eva’s apartment around 6:30pm with a bottle of wine and we spent the next couple of hours drinking, talking about men, the difficulty of being an expat, our former lives, our jobs, our goals… your standard variety of gossip and girl talk which I really missed.
Around 9:30pm, Eva’s boyfriend Julien showed up and it changed the dynamic of the conversation. He cooked us a dinner of grilled salmon, rice and veggies which was absolutely delicious (what’s up with French men knowing how to cook?) and then sat down to discuss everything from Che Guevara to Sarkozy and Bush, the immigration “problem” in America, the relationship between former colonized countries (i.e. the U.S. and England), racial tensions in Paris, the ban on smoking in public places that France is imposing in January, etc. The entire evening felt so… french. They love a good, long, heated discussion. We left around 11pm—almost 5 hours and the night flew by, I had the best time. It’s so nice to meet new people who you really like and click with (the Rocker introduced us so he was good for one thing at least!)… we three girls are all pretty much in the same boat: foreigners living in Paris, just trying to live out our dreams. We’ve decided to meet up once a week for wine and to practice talking in French (Eva is fluent).
Eva and Julien invited me to join them tonight for the France v. England game—about 20 of their friends are going to a restaurant for dinner and to watch the match (and what's up with the French always going out in huge groups?). I’m really tempted to go since it would probably mean meeting lots of new and interesting people (people who are over the age of 25!) but I was invited to watch with another friend of mine and would feel kinda bad backing out now… we’ll see.
In any case, the weekend of our birthday, we’ve confirmed that we’ll take Julien’s mother’s car and drive up to Amsterdam on Thursday afternoon. Eva has her graduation ceremony and the birthday party will be at a bar on Friday night—before midnight it will be her party, and after midnight, mine :o)
I honestly thought I would be spending my 25th birthday eating dinner by myself at some restaurant (or at least hanging out at some random bar in the city with people I don’t really care for) so this is a nice change of plans… I can’t wait!
Friday, October 12, 2007
The only thing is, now that school has started, my days have become super hectic. I wake up at 6am to get to school by 8am. Class is from 8-10am then I head to work from 10:30am-6:30pm. Considering I’m meeting friends for drinks or a movie nearly every night, I get about 5 hours of sleep a night. And I start taking the phonetics courses in two weeks so I’ll be in school from 8-11:30am every day and will have to adjust my work schedule again.
So I’m kind of in a weird place. On the one hand, I’m extremely grateful that I have a job because it’ll allow me to enjoy my time here that much more—in terms of eating out, travelling, shopping, living in a decent neighborhood, going out with friends—I don’t have to be so conscious of every penny I spend.
But on the other hand, my purpose for coming here was to live a completely different life than I did in New York. To slow down and enjoy the things that I was too busy to enjoy properly before—basically to bum around in cafés reading novels, practicing my French after class with my classmates, wandering the streets of Paris in the middle of the day, travelling around France… that kind of thing. Nothing.
New York is all about the hustle; its part of the culture and if you aren’t a part of it, you feel a bit inadequate. Paris on the other hand isn’t like that at all—don’t get me wrong, they work hard here too—but it’s a completely different way of life, there are different priorities and that’s what I’m hoping to adopt while I’m here. Now I’m beginning to feel as though I may get swept up in my old way of life again, which means I may have to revaluate. We’ll see how things go once I’ve adjusted to my new schedule. Thankfully, if I decide I want to make a change, I can do so easily. I’m not tied to or dependant on anything at this point which is a very nice feeling for a change.
Anyway, tomorrow night is the big France v. England rugby match… they’re playing here in Paris and since we’re at the knockout stage of the World Cup, it’s going to be HUGE. All of Paris is in this crazy rugby-obsessed state so there’s nothing to do but join in, otherwise you’ll be hanging out with the crickets every weekend. It’s actually been pretty fun, I must admit—I was supporting Ireland for my friend Brandon but now that they’re out, I’m rooting for France. I’m going to a bar in Montmartre to watch with some friends, should be a good time! I’ll try to get pics/video to post of the insanity so you can see what I’m talking about. A bientot!
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Anyway, he’s great. We’re going to dinner and then to see the new Brad Pitt movie tomorrow night at 8pm… stay tuned!
Monday, October 8, 2007
For Saturday night, Cancun had invited me to the birthday party of two of his friends. It was a big gathering for dinner and drinks at a restaurant that was owned by a friend of his. Cancun was just being his usual crazy self… and it turns out he just broke up with his girlfriend :o) His little 21-year-old brother decided that he was in love with me though and kept hugging me and trying to kiss me, so Cancun was teasing me about it all night.
Then there’s this boy—I’ll just call him B because he doesn’t really have a crazy story attached to him. He’s a friend of a guy I met through Cancun. I met him twice—the first time briefly on a street corner and the second time when I went out with a friend of his (the night of The Arrest). We went to B’s apartment for drinks before going to the bar and he was just really funny and sweet, and he was the only one who spoke English well, so we ended up talking for much of the short evening. Then last week I got a text from him saying, “It’s B, we met a couple weeks ago through S. I work near you and know some good restaurants near our office. Would you like to have lunch one day?” Totally innocent, we planned to meet the following Tuesday for lunch.
Anyway, the night of the party B walks in a bit late and he’s with a pretty French girl. For some weird reason I felt a bit disappointed, but didn’t think about it too much—I was just like ‘ok fine, he has a girlfriend’. We hung out and spoke as usual, although I was trying not to talk to him too much—you know how some girls get when other girls talk to their boyfriend—since she kept looking at me funny. Semera and I decided to leave the party after dinner and went to Oberkampf to get a drink. Later, I get a text from Cancun saying they’re all going to Bastille and to meet them there. We spent the night drinking and dancing at a cute little Spanish bar till 4am.
At the end of the night, the whole group was standing outside the bar (Cancun had left about 15 mins before, he was wasted and just up and disappeared while we were dancing... typical) and B and I were talking a bit apart from the rest of the group. He took my hand and was absentmindedly playing with my fingers as we chatted for about 5 minutes (he made a point of mentioning that the girl he was with was just his neighbor, not his girlfriend). So we said goodbye, bisous twice (sometimes friends will give 4 or more kisses on the cheek, who knows why, they're French, lol) and as I was pulling back, he kissed me on the mouth—for about 5 seconds. All I could think was, ‘Oh my god, what the hell was that about?’ It was just so random and unexpected. But it was really sweet, not like the skeezy guy who tries to steal a kiss. So I said bye to everyone else and Semera and I made our way down the busy street to catch a cab. I turned and looked back and B was craning his neck to see where I was, we made eye contact and he smiled and nodded, and that was it. There’s a scene in my favorite movie, Say Anything. Diane comes home from the party and is explaining to her father how Lloyd Dobler would periodically look for her in the crowd and catch her eye to make sure she was ok. We had that exact moment. And it’s so funny (and kinda scary) because last week I dedicated In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel to Helen on Facebook and wrote “…all men should aspire to be Lloyd Dobler”.
But there’s not much to say about him. He’s just B—extremely nice, really cute, kinda shy, funny, smart, interesting, he's an engineer... Semera thinks he’s great—she’s like “Forget Cancun, he’s all wrong. B is perfect. He was mature, watching Cancun and the rest of them act crazy and just laughing at them”. I’ve always fallen for boys who are like that, the life of the party, the one surrounded by a million girls—thinking that’s what I wanted because they were more exciting, and nice guys always bored me (Semera had the wisdom to mention this is probably due to my relationship with my father but that’s another story entirely). So its weird that I can’t stop thinking about this guy—and I never thought of him in that way at all before. But why not B?
So we’ll see how lunch goes… a demain.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Basically, I’m coordinating our company’s 1st annual sales meeting for our European partners and I had to do a site check (meet with the hotel’s marketing person, check out the conference room, confirm the audio equipment etc). My boss just happens to be in love with Barcelona so he’s scheduled the event to take place there (as opposed to Paris or London, where we have offices) from Wednesday through Friday afternoon, so we can spend the rest of the weekend enjoying the city… I think I’m going to like him ;o)
One thing I must grudgingly admit about Seventeen, they were cheap bastards but they hardly skimped on business trips—chauffeured car service to and from the airport, lenient hotel and meal budget, and they conveniently looked away when you added a few personal items to your expense report (magazines, shampoo, jewellery, dinner at 5-star restaurants)—it was no Condé Nast, but it was tolerable.
This trip on the other hand proved to be a different matter entirely. First of all, as I was fated to fly Ryan “Budget” Air, it meant that I would be leaving from Beauvais airport way out in the suburbs. Would I get a car service or at least a taxi to take me there? Oh no! I had to take public transportation, which in Paris at 5AM means an hour on the “Night Bus” (the metro only operates from 5:30AM – 1:00AM, ridiculous, I know) full of drunken partygoers, night workers and gypsies (the dregs of Parisian society) to reach the outskirts of town, followed by an 1.5 hour shuttle bus ride to the airport. And naturally, I flew into the furthest airport in Barcelona so I took another 1.5 hour bus ride into the city. And on top of all this, my flight was delayed two hours due to bad weather. Sweet.
So I finally arrived in Barcelona around 3PM on Wednesday, surprisingly in high spirits. I had just enough time to take a cab to the hotel, meet with my contact, race out to grab a quick lunch of paella and Spanish beer at this cute little restaurant in the most charming neighborhood (the Gothic district, see pics below) and have an interesting convo about Spain with the Pakistani owner, get lost down a few streets, then cab it back to the terminal to catch the bus back to the airport—all within about 2 hours. The funny thing was I had about 6 languages running through my mind so every time I asked for directions or anything, I kept saying grazie instead of gracias and parles instead of habla—it was a mess.
But Barcelona is gorgeous… I definitely have to do an extended trip out there to take in the city properly (which I’ll do during our sales meeting next month!). As rich and touristy as this city is, it’s still relatively cheap and has this really quaint, small-town feel. I was pretty surprised at that. I was expecting a city kind of like New York or Paris because all I ever hear about Barcelona is that it’s an amazing place to party, but it felt more like Philly or D.C. Clean, wide streets, historical, artsy, slightly subdued pulse but with lots of life. The interesting thing is that Barcelona is surrounded by these slums, for lack of a better word. Like the shantytowns that you’d find in some 3rd world country… very bizarre. You’ll get an idea from this picture I took from the rooftop pool of the hotel. The hotel is in the center of the city and the most breathtaking view in the place looks over the entire city... it just looks like a ghetto.
Of course, my trip wouldn’t be complete without the requisite male correspondence. I had about an hour to kill at the airport before my flight back to Paris so I was walking around the terminal trying to decide where to eat. I went into a restaurant, ordered my food and carried my tray to the seating area to find a table. I passed a group of guys as they were leaving the restaurant to walk to their gate and one guy turned, looked back at me and smiled. I was like “hmm, cute” but just sat down and started eating without really thinking about it. Next thing I know, the cute boy comes back, sits at the table next to me and says, “So, where are you from?” We start chatting and it turns out he’s from a small town in the north of Italy, just graduated with an economics degree and is looking for a job in the finance department of a fashion company in Barcelona but if not, Milan. Fashion Boy is decidedly obsessed with fashion and after about 20 minutes of quizzing me about my experiences at fashion week, New York, trends and my favorite designers, he notices that his plane has boarded and asks me for my email address because he would like to “talk to me about fashion for hours”. He begs me not to judge him by what he’s wearing because, he says, he just likes to travel comfortably (he was wearing a white button down, jeans and sneakers) but promised that his suitcase contained lots of great suits, Italian designer clothes, and namely pieces from Dior and Gucci. Uh, ok… anyway, his one saving grace was that he was really adorable and potentially gay... and at least I'll have another European fashion contact! Anyway, that was Barcelona :o)