Friday, October 19, 2007

Now THAT was An Adventure!

So I Vélib'ed for the first time this morning... And although there were a few small hiccups along the way, I had a great time! At least those darn strikes were good for something in the end! (and I so wish I could bicycle to work like that more often...) Now here's just hoping they don't last, because I'd like to return home and sleep in my own bed for once... Apparently the rugby game tonight may have a temporary hand in preventing further extension of the strikes, but who knows how long that will last.

The last few days have seen me trekking around the city, sleeping in friends' and colleagues' spare beds, depending therefore on their kindness and generosity, and traveling to work in the morning by bike or by foot. Wednesday night I had dinner with a friend, who generously allowed me to stay with her and her husband in their adorable apartment in the 11th. I thought I would have to walk from there (between Bastille and the Gare de Lyon) to work near the Parc Monceau on Thursday morning, but as it turns out Line 14 was working perfectly (again, automatic lines like that one seem to be the best solution for avoiding strikes in the future, if you ask me!) and there weren't even that many crowds. I think a lot of people must have ended up staying home to avoid the craziness. But there were also quite a few people on the streets, either hoofing it or cycling away. It was a beautiful, crisp fall morning, the sun was shining, and I must say that I didn't mind the walk from St. Lazare to rue de Courcelles at all... I even had time to stop for coffee and a piece of carrot cake, so I treated myself!

Last night one of my colleagues, who lives on the Left Bank near Denfert-Rochereau, told me I could stay at her place, and it worked out perfectly. I did have to walk to her apartment -- and to be honest with you, once again, I didn't really mind, because even though it was a long walk, it was a pleasant one because it wasn't raining and it wasn't that cold. It took me about an hour and a half, even though she had said it would be less -- but my colleague is a first-class athlete, participating in marathons on a regular basis and walking, running or cycling to work pretty much every day. I was stopped for directions by several befuddled people, either tourists or those who were not used to walking around the city. One poor lady stopped me at the edge of the boulevard St. Germain, just as it hits the Pont de la Concorde, and asked in a daze, "Odéon? Where's Odéon?" I explained that she must have passed it a ways back, because it was in the direction she had been walking from -- and she nodded and mumbled that she had come all the way from Duroc... Yikes! As I passed the crossroads of boulevard Raspail and rue de Rennes, a young guy who appeared to be from Eastern Europe (he had an accent, but I couldn't recognize it) asked me in broken French, "République? Je cherche République..." I was stunned, because République is all the way on the other end of the city, across the Seine, in the northeast -- I tried to explain this to him, and he just looked at me disbelievingly. I think he must have mixed up names or something...

When I got to my colleague's place, we all had couscous for dinner -- she said I was really lucky, because usually during the week she and her husband don't do much cooking (who really has time for it?!), but they had decided ahead of time to have couscous together because she's prepping for a marathon this weekend. So it was nice to enjoy the meal and chat about the strikes, our work situation, and other various and sundry everyday matters.

My colleague loves to Vélib' in to work in the morning, so after dinner she asked me if I was up for it -- and I thought, of course, why not? I had been wanting to have the chance to try out the system for a while, so this was the perfect opportunity -- even if the strikes had crowded up the traffic in the streets, requiring us to be even more vigilant on the bikes. Of course, that's a necessity in any normal circumstances, but we just had to be extra careful. After nabbing two bikes near her building (we were really lucky in this case, because I think we arrived just in the nick of time -- several bikes were damaged, and we got the last two good ones), we set out, but about 25 minutes later we tried to switch them out at another station. For some reason the machine wouldn't accept my card identification code, and after having already locked in the other bike, I needed a new one. The check-in process was pretty simple, but I still needed another bike to make it the rest of the way to work... As luck would have it, two Vélib' employees were stacking damaged bikes on a sort of truck nearby, and we asked them for some help. They were super-friendly, but neither one of them could figure out why the machine wouldn't accept my code. Finally, one of them (a younger chap, with a friendly smile) just swiped his Carte Intégrale on the machine and told me to take one of the bikes -- I couldn't believe it! I was a bit taken aback, and didn't know what to do, because obviously I wanted to use the bike, but I didn't want him to get into any trouble. He insisted that it was okay, and just made me "promise" to return the bike once I got to work! Of course, I said -- that was the plan. Apparently my colleague later explained to me that some people have actually been STEALING the bikes! I couldn't believe that, but then again, I guess I shouldn't be surprised...

So we made it to work, on-time even, and after returning our bikes we dashed into the office. I had been wearing two sweaters and a jacket, so you can imagine how sweaty I was at that point! And my colleague had been patiently waiting for me, looking back and making sure I was following closely the whole time. I know I slowed her down, but we both had a good time in the end. Like I said, a real adventure -- and the brighter side of the strikes for me. But the terrible thing is, I read about a horrible accident today on-line, and this did send chills down my spine... Please, all Vélib' riders out there, soyez vigilants ! It only takes a few seconds...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Morning Mayhem

Ahhhhh, what a morning! And I don't mean that in a good way. I'm no longer used to 6:30 wake-up calls, and I am definitely not a morning person... Have I mentioned that before? The fact that I am decidely NOT a morning person? Well, I'm saying it again. Especially after this morning. I know that you can get a heck of a lot done by waking up early, but my body is just not cut out for it. At least not yet... Who knows, maybe one day that might change (of course, I'm not going to hold my breath!) -- or I may be forced to change myself. But in the meantime, I am fighting against it with every bone in my body.

Especially when the wake-up requires a stop at the local medical lab to get some tests done, something which can't be done directly at the doctor's office here in France. I know we have an excellent healthcare system, for the most part anyway, and trust me -- I'm not complaining. I just wish I could get the lab tests done in the same place where I have the doctor's appointment. So it didn't require crawling out of bed at the crack of dawn to have either some needles stuck in me, or other fun forays into the medical domain...

My boyfriend had gotten up yesterday morning to go have some bloodwork done himself, to check up on his cholesterol levels and make sure he was doing okay. It's a necessity after the health scare he had last April, and we have to monitor his heart condition on a regular basis. And I'm constantly feeling guilty about this, because I'm wondering if I'm not cooking the right things, if I'm not taking care of him as well as I should... Of course, I know stress doesn't help things either, and I'm not responsible for everything. I like him to be happy, so I try to treat him from time to time, but then I get the gnawing feeling that I probably shouldn't have made that sweet chocolate mousse on Sunday... Especially if I had known he was going to have tests done on Monday morning!! Even he didn't think about it, didn't make the connection until he got his results on the Internet today... Argh, the triglycerides are not looking good, and I have a feeling the chocolate mousse definitely didn't help.

So off I went this morning, leaving my boyfriend wandering frantically around the apartment, tearing apart every room in search of his car keys, for gosh's sakes, which he could no longer find in order to move his car from one side of the street to the other... We live in one of those neighborhoods where the cars need to be moved midway through the month for one reason or another... I can't remember why this morning, for the life of me, he has to do that. But if he can't find his keys, he can't exactly move his car, now can he? I decided not to harp on the fact that it seems incomprehensible to me that he could lose his own car keys, as I knew this wouldn't help matters much, and I also knew that if I started looking myself I would get as frantic as he already was, and that wasn't going to help either. So off I went to the lab as planned, did what I had to do, stopped by the good boulangerie near the lab, and brought home piping-hot fresh bread for us to share at breakfast. He had calmed down by then, having found his keys in the interim, but still had to go out to move the car.

While he was gone I tried to put as much of the junk back that he had taken out in his hunt, but still hadn't finished when he walked back in the door -- damn, is he quick! And I'm as slow as a snail... I don't think I was awake yet, that was part of the problem. I got the coffee going, slapped on some makeup so I wouldn't look too dead at the office today, and finally wobbled into the kitchen for breakfast. We were both in crappy moods, and the lost keys hadn't helped. I was of course relieved he had finally found them, but I was pretty sure he would anyway -- and guess where they were?? Ha ha... At the bottom of his tennis bag. I think I could have told him that ahead of time -- I don't know why I didn't think of it... (Jenn, are you reading this? What is it about men again?!?!...)

And of course you would think that getting up so early would allow me to head out of the apartment early to catch the perfect train and get to work well ahead of time, right? Well, you would think wrong... I ran out the door the same time as usual, as I got distracted in the kitchen trying to clean up after our breakfast. Old habits never die... I ran down the street and arrived, out of breath, at the train station, only to see that the train I usually take was going to be five minutes late. Well, perfect, right?! Yeah, I guess, except there was no guarantee that it would get me to work on time...

And, well, I did make it in the end, so that's certainly a relief -- but it's given me a bad taste of things to come... An ominous foreshadowing of events this Thursday in Paris, when a huge grève générale is expected on the whole métro/train/RER/bus system.

Oh, how lucky we are. We knew this was coming, but I have got a baaaaad feeling about it this time around... Anyone remember Fall 1995? Yikes!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Reflections on Friendship

I met a friend last Thursday evening for a drink after work, at a table in a café on the Place Pereire, and we squeezed in so much in just under an hour and a half... I could have stayed chatting much longer, as I wasn't in a hurry that night, but she had to get home to meet her husband. I'm always in awe of how much we have to catch up on when we get together, but then again, I think the last time we met for drinks was in March -- believe it or not! The time just flies, and I'm constantly reminded of when my parents used to say things like that when I was a kid -- how much faster time seems to go by as an adult. This fact has become more and more vivid for me in the past year or so. In a sense, I don't feel my age at all -- I'm dumbfounded by the fact that I am, in fact, in my early 30s -- I feel much younger in my head and in my heart. And then at other times, for example after a long day, when all I want to do is return home and rest, do simple, homebody-type things, I can't help thinking that I'm acting much older than I should, or that my interests and hobbies revolve around older types of things -- like cooking and hanging out at home! A bit ridiculous, I know, but I've realized more and more that I'm just not cut out for the partying scene -- I guess I never have been, but for years I would try to blend in and make myself enjoy things that just weren't my cup of tea. Now I'm realizing that of course there's no shame in that, and I might as well revel in the things I love, no matter what the rest of the world may think.

But the last two weeks or so my calendar has been packed with more "social occasions" than usual, and trust me, I'm not complaining -- I love catching up with friends, having something to look forward to during my long days at work. It's what keeps me going -- isn't that the case for a lot of us? I guess not everyone, because some of you lucky dogs out there actually have jobs and professions that you enjoy, but I just haven't found that niche yet, unfortunately. At least I can say that I'm in a country I love, in spite of all its flaws and frustrations, and that I have a lot of wonderful people in my life who make the long days worth getting past. That's something, isn't it? That and knowing that there is some potential out there for future endeavors, future possibilities -- I just have to keep my mind, my eyes and all the doors open.

But when the social outings pile up, and I have a heck of a time figuring out how to squeeze it all in, that's when I feel like my head is going to explode. And I don't even have kids! I know how hard it must be for folks like Jenn to find a balance for herself and her family. And here I am having a hard time just fitting in enough time for my boy and me. This week is jam-packed with fun, but I also have to be sure to fit in some time doing those necessary things around the apartment, like cooking, cleaning and laundry. Obviously life -- and living! -- are much more important, but then again you certainly want to feel good about the home you're returning to at the end of the day. Such a juggle!

When my friend Sarah and I got together last week, we found ourselves reminiscing about the time we met back in the States, in the late '90s, when I was working for a French company as a marketing assistant. She was an au pair hoping to improve her English and we were both spending time at the Alliance Française in Washington, DC (I didn't want to lose my French, so I was serving wine and cheese, and she wanted to meet fellow French-speakers living in the area). One day one of the guys I was working with at the time saw a photo of us together, and he said, eyes blazing, "I have got to meet her!" I was stunned by his adamance, but I eventually complied, knowing full well that he wouldn't leave me alone until I did... Their first meeting didn't lead to many sparks -- at least I didn't think so! -- but about a week later I received a call in my car, and Sarah told me that they were officially a couple. They had really hit it off, both loving to swing dance and sharing so many of the same interests. It was unexpected, but I was of course thrilled for them.

Fast-forward eight years later, and they are now married and living in la région parisienne. We lost touch there for a while -- life and all that -- but then caught up again about a year and a half ago, and since then Sarah and I have tried to get together to have drinks from time to time. Again, we always have a million things to talk about, and this time around was no exception. In fact, I felt like we were really on the same wavelength in so many ways, and a lot of what she said to me really reassured me about my current fears and concerns, regarding life and the future in general. It's funny how we so often see so many wonderful things in other people, how much we admire and appreciate their qualities, and then in fact they tell us that they see those same things in us. Of course it's a good feeling, but it's also kind of unsettling...

Well, before I head off in some kind of random philosophical direction, let's just say that I'm hoping we can make our evening drink sessions more regular, and not so few and far between. I love the conversations we have, the memories we share, and the thoughts and feelings that get stirred up in these simple moments of friendship.

It's funny, because I've always thought that my memories, of either my childhood or even of more recent years, were never very vivid, but when I actually think long and hard about things, specific images and precise moments really do come to mind. One of them is a party that I attended with Sarah on a July 4th weekend years ago, by the Chesapeake Bay, when a wonderful Australian friend of mine was in town for a few days. We studied together in a program at the Sorbonne for a semester, and he was one of the brightest spots in those months of study. He recently e-mailed me on "our" birthday (we share exactly the same birthdate, both day and year!) to share some pics of his son. There was the whisper of possibility, of something more happening between us several times over the years, but it wasn't meant to be... When he came to visit me in the U.S., he was living in London at the time and I was in the early stages of a relationship. Today he is married with a baby boy, and here I am back in France. I remember the dress I wore that sweltering July night, the strap that snapped when we were dancing, the fact that we had stayed in touch in spite of the distance between us. I really hope I can continue to do the same as time continues to fly by, remembering each other when we can, and catching up whenever life makes it possible.