Friday, November 30, 2007

Thanksgiving Cookie Run

Last Sunday night, my friend Ye-Jee organized her Annual Thanksgiving Cookie Run—finally, my first shot at the humanitarian bit of my Parisian adventure. An organization came up with the fantastic idea of spreading a bit of Thanksgiving love to the homeless community via cookies—it was something she took part in while she was in the States and decided to re-create it here in Paris. A bunch of us met at her apartment to bake the cookies and write cute little notes like “Jesus Loves You” or “Bon Courage” to put inside of the bags… since we spent most of our time joking and being silly, it took us 4 hours to make about 50 bags of cookies. Finally, around 8pm, we set out on the streets of Paris looking for homeless people to deliver the cookies to and decided to walk under the bridges along the Seine.

This is literally the underbelly of Paris, not the part of town people normally see/imagine. And I must admit, I was a bit scared. It was like something out of a horror movie where you’re screaming at the screen, “Don’t go down there, stupid! The monster is waiting for you down there!” But its real life. It takes a bit of maneuvering to get down there, and once you do, there is an entire community of homeless people who make their life under the bridges. There are hundreds of tents lined up, dozens of bonfires and people sitting around trying to stay alive and just make the most out of the hand that they were dealt. For the most part, everyone we met was really nice and extremely grateful. Many people asked, “But why? Why are you doing this?” and it broke my heart. These are the forgotten and it’s so sad to realize that there can come a point in your life when no one notices or cares about you anymore—where you are genuinely shocked at a simple, kind gesture.

There was one man that I’ll never forget. He had built himself a nice (if you can call it that) little home out of planks of wood and aluminum—outfitted with a tent, table, candle, a couple chairs and a radio. When we offered him the cookies, he invited us to peek inside to look around. So for about 15 minutes we sat inside his home and listened to his story. Turns out he is an immigrant from Morocco who moved to Paris about 20 years ago for work, after he got out of the war. He was plagued by a long-term injury and eventually lost his job as a taxi driver. At that point, his wife was the only one bringing home any income but they were still able to just get by. But 10 years ago she died and since he had the handicap, he was unable to get work (and being an immigrant, unable to collect disability) and lost his apartment—that’s when he moved onto the streets. He’s been living under the Seine ever since. He could have been my father, uncle, neighbor—he was such a nice, decent man who just had a string of bad luck (he told us he was never involved in alcohol or drugs) that landed him where he was—it could have happened to anyone. When we were leaving he said to us, “It’s so nice to see young people doing stuff like this. It makes me think that there’s some hope left in this world”.

It was an amazing night. Encounters like this make me so unbelievably grateful for what I have. I guess that’s the purpose of the Cookie Run taking place during Thanksgiving—not only are you doing a kindness for someone else on a significant day (something that seems so minuscule to one means so much to another), but its also giving us the opportunity to remember that no matter how bad our lives may seem at times, we have so much to be thankful for. I have wonderful friends and family and I know without question that there would always be someone I could turn to if I ever [God forbid] hit rock bottom. It seems hard to believe, but some people just don’t have that support system, they have no one to turn to but themselves. And what human being can survive on their own?

Psalms 30:12: ...that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

We're Back!

Phew! Crisis averted... the blog is back up and running :o)
Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fried Chicken

So I’m part of this group called FRIED CHIKEN CHIKEN CHIKEN (my member name is east village chiken chow-down fashionista). My friend Ye-Jee (supreme fried chiken dancer and crumb eater) started it after a fabulous evening we spent at KFC in Chatêlet about a month ago. The five of us must have spent 4 hours at KFC, savoring our bucket, being silly and talking about our love of fried chicken (amongst other things, we're not that boring). Then we looked around and noticed that every single person in the place was Black, Spanish, Arab or Asian.

Now yall know I hate to be ignorant and perpetuate a stereotype, but it just happens to be SO true in France. KFC isn’t a popular fast-food chain but for a certain group of Parisians, KFC is high up on the list of dining options. And since there are only like three of them in the whole city, they’re always packed—it’s like a party in there every day. We decided that we wanted to embrace the KFC culture so Ye-Jee started a group on Facebook for everyone who loves fried chicken and is proud of it… its ridiculous but absolutely hilarious!

The group met at KFC last night… two buckets of chicken later (about 4 liters of soda, 20 pieces of chicken, 20 wings and 8 bags of fries) we finally called it a night. We had an absolute blast (tried to follow the chicken eating etiquette: no talking while eating, sharing the good pieces, etc) but we may have chicken’d ourselves out... we ended up giving the leftovers to a homeless guy on the street corner. Anyway, here are some pics!

Dismissed

So I just about got myself kicked out of my French Phonetics course… thankfully, I put on a good “I’m sorry, please forgive me” face so the professor let me stay (under the condition that I don’t miss one more class for the rest of the semester… that’ll be a bit of a challenge), but it was really close!

Basically, this phonetics course meets every other week—for one hour a day, ever day. There’s been 3 weeks of courses and so far, I’ve only made it there 1 full week. But I have good excuses! The first week I missed the last 2 days because I went to Amsterdam for my birthday. The next week I had to deal with my visa—I spent 2 days at the Préfecture, waiting in line for 6-8 hours a day so that I could finally get the stupid slip of paper that allows me to stay in the country legally. And the following week I went to Barcelona for my business trip. See? Totally not my fault.

So on Monday, the professor approached me as we were leaving the classroom to head to the language lab, looked me up and down and said, “Who are you?” Now there’s something about teachers in France—they are total bitches, extremely rude and SO scary! I froze. She basically went off on me, saying that I haven’t showed up for weeks so I obviously don’t want to be there. And then she just said, “Au revoir!” and dismissed me with a wave of her hand. I hurried after her to try to explain in my broken French and begged her to let me stay.

The next day was the same thing—I was on pins & needles, wondering if she would ask what I was doing there and kick me out. When I didn’t know the answer to a question she would say, “Well if you showed up for class you would know”, she asked for proof from my job for my absence, and she wanted to call my other professor to find out if I’d been slacking in my Grammar course as well (I haven’t been). Finally today, three days later, she smiled at me as she was leaving class at said, “A demain, Stacy?” (See you tomorrow). “Bien sur!
I think she was happy because today, every time she called on me, I knew all the answers :o)

It’s the first time I’ve walked out of class and felt like, ‘Ok, I’m not getting deported’. Thank God! If she really kicked me out I would lose my visa. Umm, yeah… it probably would be a good idea to actually start attending class, right?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!!

I organized Thanksgiving dinner for a group of friends in Paris last night. Being one of my favorite holidays, I couldn’t let it go by uncelebrated! Initially, I had hoped to have a nice, home-cooked Thanksgiving at someone’s apartment but once I found out that the cheapest turkey cost 16€/kilo, I decided to scrap that idea.

I made a reservation at an American diner in the Latin Quarter called Breakfast in America but since we couldn’t get in until 10pm, we decided to start the night off with drinks at an English pub down the street at 7:30pm. But just me and 3 girlfriends met up for happy hour since everyone else was still finishing up work and such. The restaurant had a 4-course Thanksgiving dinner special for 29€― an aperitif (glass of kir), pumpkin soup (which they ran out of, jerks! We had walnut salad instead, it was delic), the main course (turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and string beans) and dessert (apple pie). Surprisingly, everything was delicious! I was expecting it to be bland, the turkey to be dry or the food to taste vaguely French—but not at all! If I closed my eyes, I could almost pretend I was back in the States.

Out of the 8 of us, only 3 of us were Americans so we explained to everyone the meaning and significance of Thanksgiving. Then we all went around the table saying what we’re thankful for and then we prayed before digging in. It was a great night! And it was B’s first Thanksgiving so it was really cute to see him really getting into it—at first he thought he wouldn’t like it (he has reservations about American cuisine, so French) but he thought the food was yummy and he had a great time.

Afterwards, the boys went home and the girls went to a karaoke bar around the corner to sing cheesy American songs until 3am with a bunch of drunken French people. It was a great Thanksgiving. I would have loved to be able to spend it with my friends and family back home, but since that was out of the question, this was a pretty nice compromise. There’s a lot of things to be thankful for this year (being in Paris, good health, my new apartment, etc)—one of which being new friends in a foreign country.

Ok, I left one thing out…. there was this guy at the pub we went to for pre-drinks—I can’t think of a good name for him so I’ll call him Grapes b/c he’s a sommelier. He was with a co-worker and they came over to us and said, “We noticed you guys are Americans and just wanted to wish you Happy Thanksgiving”. We ended up talking with them for about an hour and it turns out that he lives and works in my new neighborhood. At one point, he turned to me and said, “I don’t want to come off as sleazy, but can I take you out to dinner sometime? Since you’re new to the neighborhood… but only if you’re fun! I don’t want to go out with a boring girl” (joking). And I said, “Of course I’m fun, I’m a New Yorker!” He was absolutely hilarious so I agreed. About that time, B shows up and for some reason I felt a little… I don’t know, disappointed? Grapes and B were chatting for a bit and Grapes asked how the two of us got together… awkward. Anyway, before we left the pub, B went to the bathroom and Grapes slipped me his business card and told me to call him. And now I cannot stop thinking about him! This is sooo bad; I’m an awful person… what is my problem?! :o(


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Another business trip

Just remembered that I forgot to mention my business trip to Barcelona… I guess that’s because it actually turned out to be pretty uneventful! I flew out last Tuesday and stayed through Saturday afternoon. It was basically 4 days of my trying to throw some BS together for the marketing presentation my boss decided that I was going to give, and running around the hotel getting things organized.

Shelby flew out to meet me and we went to a few restaurants, I got to do a tiny bit of shopping at Topshop (which is definitely not as good as the ones in London) and we went to one nightspot. But we didn’t really get to party—and from what I’ve always heard Barcelona is THE city for nightlife. Totally missed it. I ended up getting really sick and spending the majority of the trip working or in bed… how exciting. And poor Shelby had to spend most of her vacation in the hotel… I felt really bad, sorry Shelby!

There were a bunch of hot hotel workers to ogle though—it seemed like every person who worked at that hotel was beautiful, particularly the doormen :o)

Oh well, there’s always next time! We’re thinking of spending Christmas in Morocco…

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I found an apartment!

FINALLY!!!

About a month ago, I put an ad up on Craigslist asking if anyone had an apartment or even a share that I could go into, but got no decent offers. Then it comes down to 9 days before I’m scheduled to move out of my crackden and I had no clue what I was going to do. B offered to let me stay in his apartment while he’s on holiday in LA for a month but I really wanted to find my own place. But every apartment I went to see (and I saw TONS) was horrendous, overpriced, an outright scam, in a bad neighborhood or simply asked for more paperwork than I could provide. So a few days ago, on a whim, I decided to repost my Craigslist ad to see if anything bit. I immediately got an email from an American couple saying they had something I might be interested in. I went to see it today and it’s perfect! Nothing fancy, but it’s my own place, in my price range and the owners are super nice—they didn’t ask for references, paperwork, a security deposit or anything—just a mutual understanding (and a receipt! I’m not stupid) that I’m their tenant and am allowed to stay in the apartment through September 2008—at least.

It’s a cute little studio in the 11th arrondissement in Paris. It’s tiny, but it’s fully-furnished and includes free WiFi and phone calls to the US. The neighborhood is in what has become a “trendy” part of town—a bunch of nightspots opened up on rue Oberkampf in the last few years and my apartment is about a block away. But it’s on a [relatively] quiet side street and is close to about 4 different metro lines—you New Yorkers know how important that is! I’ve swapped police raids and donner kebab stands in the ghetto for a neighborhood of French cafés and cute bars.

God honestly comes through every single time. Even when you’re down to the wire and don’t know how things could possibly come together, the key is to continue to have faith that He will work it out because He ALWAYS does. 9 days before I'm essentially homeless AND on the day before Thanksgiving—He has a sense of humour! I am feeling so blessed right now :o)
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! You’re welcome to come visit me in my new home anytime!

Le Gréve - Part 2

I've been in Paris for less than 3 months and am already having to brave my 2nd transit strike. So far we're at Day 8 and counting... with no end in sight. And to make matters worse, there are hundreds of people taking to the streets to strike AGAINST the strike, which is causing more congestion and traffic delays! lol, why can't the French get it together??

Monday, November 19, 2007

A weekend in Tuscany

After the iPod fiasco, I left Paris to spend a weekend with Shelby in Italy. It couldn’t have come at a better time… I honestly just wanted a nice, calm weekend where I could relax and forget about all the crazy drama in Paris.

Nicco and Shelby picked me up from the airport in Pisa on Friday night and we went to dinner at the cutest, most authentic, hole-in-the-wall Italian place about 20 minutes outside of Florence—the owner was a friend of Nicco’s. I had a pizza with buffalo mozzarella cheese, prosciutto and tomatoes and I swear to you, it may have been the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten in my entire life—it literally brought tears to my eyes! I don’t know what it is about Italy, but they have the best food in the world! Even at crappy little tourist spots (this place most certainly was not), you’ll get good food—I hate to admit it, but that’s not the case in France. I think French cuisine is more of an acquired taste, and often times it can be hit or miss. Maybe because French food is more complicated, whereas Italian food basically boils down to bread, cheese, olive oil and meat :o)

After dinner, we went to a Bitty Mclean concert at a club in Florence. Now I'm not being ignorant, I understand that the reggae culture is not a genre to be adopted solely by black folks, but it never fails to amaze me to see hundreds of white, non-American people—rocking the dreadlocks, wearing their Bob Marley t-shirts, smoking a joint and really getting down at a reggae concert in the middle of Italy. Blew my mind… I’m a dork and never heard of Bitty Mclean but he put on a good show. And aside from the strange Ethiopian guy who tried to accost me (thanks for saving me Nicco!), it was a lot of fun.

Saturday was spent wandering Florence… Shelby and I had breakfast (and the best cappuccino ever), did a bit of shopping, had some delicious, cheap gelato, drank a few glasses of wine at a bar and sat under the Tuscan sun admiring the view of Florence. That night Shelby cooked dinner at her cute apartment. I must say, at first I was a bit sceptical about her cooking ability… I mean, Shelby doesn’t exactly strike you as the domestic sort. But she surprised me! She was in the kitchen for like 2 hours cooking this mushroom and cheese quiche thing and a meat roll thing and preparing appetizers (lol, this isn’t sounding very appetizing is it? Sorry, I forget the names!), and we had a bottle of wine—all delicious. Good job Shelby!

On Sunday I took the train to Pisa to visit Lutisha, her hubby Giovanni and her son Marcus Valentino, who has got to be the cutest baby on the face of the earth. I totally forgot to take pics while I was out there, so I stole one off of her MySpace page :o)
Lutisha cooked us lunch (what’s with all my friends turning into chefs lately?) and we spent all afternoon eating, drinking wine, gossiping and reminiscing about our college/NYC days—from life in the dorms, our Backstreet Boys adventures/obsession, our love lives... Five hours later I was on my way back to Paris…

It was the perfect weekend…exactly what I needed. Its nice to see good friends having their own expat experience: Lutisha in Pisa, Shelby in Florence, Zandile in London… each of us New Yorkers in a foreign city, making our own way, having interesting adventures… The thing that struck me the most is that Tuscany is such a contrast from Paris. Paris is very similar to New York in that it’s a loud, fast, sleek, gritty city—of course there’s that European charm and beauty that is particularly unique to France, and it’s a bit culture shock being in Paris, but on the whole, not such a HUGE departure for a New Yorker. On the other hand, Florence is about the size of the Upper West Side, it feels more like living in a quaint village than a cosmopolitan city—life is slow and meditative, all you want to do is eat and drink wine, I love it! And there's something about waking up to the sound of the bells ringing at the Duomo. It got me thinking about my next move… maybe I’ll go to some small retreat in India or someplace so I can get a real unique, reclusive experience. We’ll see!


video

Friday, November 9, 2007

AHHH!!!!

My iPod was stolen today... I was on the metro sitting next to this normal looking Indian man, maybe around 35 years old, heading to the office from school and I quickly pulled my iPod out of my pocket to change songs. On the Parisian metro, there's a loud beep that lets you know the door is going to shut in 2 seconds. Well, as soon as the door beeped, the guy jumped up, snatched my iPod out of my hands and ran off the metro. I didn't even have time to react.

The other Parisians on the train barely bothered to look up. Meanwhile, there were two American tourists in the car and they were just as stunned as I was... they were like, "Oh my God, that guy just stole her iPod!" lol, that part was actually funny... or maybe its sad that Parisians are so used to this happening.

I'm trying to look on the bright side: I should be grateful that all he took was my iPod... he very easily could have snatched my purse instead, my life is in there. But I can't help it! I'm PISSED! Its not the iPod itself, its just all that music I had uploaded, gone... I don't have my computer with me so I can't replace it until I go home in February. Now I just have to listen to my stupid Shuffle with like 30 songs on it... I just don't get it!! Can't a person hold something without having to worry about it getting snatched out of their hands?!

I honestly hate Paris right now... thankfully I'm leaving to visit Shelby in Florence in a couple hours and I can get away from this thieving, crime-ridden freakin city.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

About the French #4

Today I had my first experience with a French gynecologist and it was quite intersting so I thought I’d share. Oh, you boys out there may want to stop reading now…

The doctor's office was located in a posh, residential neighborhood in Paris and once I stepped into the building’s courtyard, I saw 3 identical doors leading to God knows where… no sign, nothing to help me out. So I stood there looking around blankly until a nice lady took pity on me and pointed me to the door that supposedly lead to the doctor’s office.

There was a scroll box next to the door so I found the doctor’s name (or what I guessed was her name, I didn’t really understand it on the phone when I made the appointment), pressed the call button and I was buzzed into an empty room. No receptionist, no front desk, nothing. Just a few couches, a bookshelf, a coffee table and stacks of magazines. I walked up and down the different hallways a few times, sure I’d missed something or was in the wrong place. For a second, I even thought I had gone into someone’s apartment by mistake so I walked outside to check the front door and saw a tiny little plaque that read “Médcin”. So I just took a seat and waited to see what would happen.

Turned out the place is like a one-stop shop—the GYN is the receptionist, the doorperson, the accountant, the nurse and the doctor all rolled into one. Pretty funny…

Five minutes later, she appears out of nowhere and calls my name. She ushers me into her “office” which was simply a room the size of my studio that had a desk and a little alcove area that held the examining table and a bunch of medical machines. After taking a few minutes to ask me the routine questions (which was a bit of a challenge considering she spoke very little English and obviously my French is atrocious), she gets up from her desk, walks over to the little exam area, turns to me and says, “Ok, get undressed over there” pointing to a corner of the room.

Now we all know that in the States the doctor politely leaves the room and gives you 5 long minutes of privacy to get undressed, neatly fold your clothes and hide your underwear, and cover yourself in a nice little modest gown while you sit and wait for her to return and knock on the door to make sure you're "ready & decent". But does that happen in France? Of course not! The GYN just made up the table then stood there waiting for me to finish getting undressed. I hesitated when I got down to my underwear (she couldn’t be expecting me to strip down naked right in front of her?) but she just laughed and said, “No, everything”. At this point, I’m slightly mortified to be walking clear across the room to the table, stark naked in front of a woman I’ve never met before in my life… but the French don’t have the same inhibitions about the naked body that we do in the States so it was just not a big deal.

It really made me realize how prudent Americans are in pretty much every area of our lives (TV, advertising, etc). Even in a big, modern city like New York, a doctor would never expect you to prance around her office nude. Sure, they end up seeing everything anyway, but you always get that paper gown to cover up with so that you can at least PRETEND that you’re holding onto a bit of privacy. Whereas here in France, the thought of covering up in front of your doctor is so ridiculously pointless it doesn’t even cross their mind… so when in France!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Another b-day party...

Last night I went out for drinks to celebrate my birthday with my friends in Paris (a few people from my French class and some other friends) about 15 of us at this cute “trendy” bar in the 2eme called Le Café Noir. The big news was that it was the first night I invited B to hang out with me and my friends… very nerve-wracking! On the one hand, you’re worried that he’ll be weird or dull and your friends won’t like him or won’t be able to understand what you see in him. And on the other hand, you don’t want him to be bored trying to make small talk with a group of strangers for hours... but then you don’t want to seem like you need to be all up in his face, holding his hand every second either… so I figured I’d just let them at it and not worry too much about it…

And he was great and everyone really liked him! Granted, there was the embarrassing moment here and there, like when a friend would come over and say, “Oh Stacy, is this the boyfriend?!” (We never officially said we were boyfriend/girlfriend so it could have been an awkward moment, but he just replied, “That’s me! I’m the boyfriend”). Or when one of my gay boyfriends eyed him up and down and nodded approvingly with a smirk on his face (B just laughed and said, "don't leave me alone with that one"... it was cute).

Some of you will remember a guy that I was semi-head-over-heels for once upon a time… the funny part is everyone who met him immediately thought he was a jerk and I just didn’t understand why they couldn't see what I saw (turns out they were right). But it’s nice to have your friends say nice things about the guy you’re seeing… and to be with someone who makes an effort to get along with your friends :o)