Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On the Same Wavelength

Just to prove that my boy really is a total sweetheart, I had to share the fact that he brought home the first season of Grey's Anatomy from our local Vidéo Futur last night. Of course, I'll never be able to watch the whole season in one evening, but I'll give it my best try! After hearing (and reading) so much about it around the blogosphere, I just had to find out first-hand what the hype was all about -- but every time I went to rent the DVD, it was unavailable. So when he saw it on the shelf yesterday, he scooped it up in a jiffy. As a matter of fact, not realizing how many episodes there are on each DVD, he actually brought home both first-season DVDs -- that's a lot of Grey's Anatomy! Problem is, it will probably take me days to get through them, what with my hours spent at work, commuting, etc. Oh well, what's a few rental Euros?

Ironically enough, I was just in the FNAC near my office yesterday (many of you out there know exactly why! Tori - Tori - Tori...) and I was checking out the price on the DVD series. But 40€ seemed a bit steep, and I couldn't justify it. (So I bought a couple Nancy Huston novels instead... As if I need more books on my overloaded shelves at home!) Across town, my boy was thinking of me...

It's just a shame that I couldn't start watching the episodes last night; an unexpected dinner with friends and some former colleagues delayed my viewing pleasure... Now that's my kind of distraction! Things are looking up...

** UPDATE: Oh, I am so hooked! I watched seven episodes last night...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rien ne va... or Irritability and the Uninvited Guest

Ca y est - winter has returned to Paris with a vengeance, as confirmed by the ice cold rain and hailstorms on Sunday and the odd vision of snow floating through the sky Monday morning. I've had to pull on the gloves again as I wait on the RER quai, and although this is a convenience in the close quarters of the Paris métro, it's still a reminder that spring will have to wait a bit longer. Of course, that's no surprise here in France, I guess. Au mois d'avril, ne te découvre pas d'un fil; au mois de mai, fais ce qui te plaît... In other words, you better not be peeling off any clothes before the month of May rolls around!

I've been digging through my own winter wardrobe of sweaters, tired of pulling on layer after layer. I know we haven't had a particularly harsh winter this year, but I'm frileuse (read: I'm a wimp) and I simply hate being cold. Even when the sun starts peaking out promisingly, like last week, I still wear thick sweaters as a precaution, wary of an unexpected chill.

Last night I wanted to spend a quiet evening at home with my boy, as he had promised me, maybe watch a DVD, maybe even finally write a blog post about my Spanish excursion. But it was not meant to be. Already my eyes had been bothering me all day long, and I should have taken out my contacts sooner. It looks like I'm not going to be able to put off that ophthalmologist appointment for much longer...

I had planned on making some cream of broccoli soup, but had gotten a late start in the kitchen, given my English lesson right after work and my eye irritation -- which eventually led to my own irritability. Something which poisoned my entire evening.

I was just chopping some shallots at a quarter to nine (yes, you read that right) when my boy came in the door with a friend, a sort of permanent fixture around these parts. I had been somewhat forewarned by an earlier phone call and normally I wouldn't have minded -- he was only meant to stop by for a bit. But I just wasn't in the mood, unfortunately. He settled into our miniscule kitchen with my boyfriend, where they contentedly munched on bread and cheese while I bent, stretched and crawled around them to get my soup on track. They kept asking me what was wrong, but in a teasing, distracted, "oops, looks like the lady's not in a good mood" kind of tone. I hate it when my boy pulls this one on me, making me look like the nasty girlfriend, when he knows that Mondays are simply not my best nights. This was the last thing I needed. Was I tired? (Duh.) Not feeling well? What insignificant little thing could possibly be bothering me? Had I had a long day? I might have appreciated the inquiry if I thought it was sincere and if they had expressed it differently, but this wasn't the case...

Now, don't get me wrong: this friend is not a bad guy, just much too intense and overbearing, someone who has an awkward and forceful way of imposing himself on you and constantly pointing out things you just don't want to discuss, when you'd much rather be left alone. He's one of those "oh, golly, you look tired" types -- you know, the ones who point out the obvious and just make you feel worse for it, saying the one thing he really shouldn't say. He's a nice enough guy, I guess, at least when he tries to be, and the truth of the matter is that I know he has a good heart and that he's had a lot going on in his own life that he's had to tackle over the past few years. But I can't bear his insufferable habits sometimes, his way of implying one thing or another, and his scornful way of poking fun at me one too many times -- intentionally trying to provoke a reaction.

I managed to keep my cool until he had left, blessedly around 10:30, but then I flew off the handle -- and I regret it this morning. I let my fatigue, my nerves and my irritability get the best of me, and I complained about his way of making himself at home in our apartment at the most inopportune times. Mind you, I know he is one of my boy's oldest friends, and they do a lot for each other, but lately his intense personality has been grating on me more and more. And I can only take so much...

I was ranting about insignificant details, like how he drinks almost the entire bottle of orange juice (and I feel really guilty about this, because I know he's done other things for my boy -- but still, it's the principle!) but I couldn't seem to stop myself. My boy usually calms me down and says he's aware of the fact that this guy is a bit hard to cope with, but last night he simply didn't understand me. On the contrary, he thought I was being ridiculous.

To top it all off, just as I was about to blend the soup in our mixer, as I was spooning the vegetables and broth into the glass container, I realized too late that the base was not sealed properly, and the scalding liquid leaked all over the counter and onto the floor. That was it: I was at my wit's end. I let out a spiel of colorful profanity, which at that point sent my boy over the edge. He told me to go to bed; I needed to settle down, he'd clean up the mess. But I'm extremely têtu when it comes down to it, and I wasn't to be convinced. I had made the mess, and I planned on cleaning it up myself. Plus, I had seen the way he cleaned up these kinds of things in the past...

I continued to rant, he left the room (and me to my own devices). A half an hour later I fumbled into bed, nearly midnight, still grumbling to myself. Needless to say, the whole evening was a total washout -- not the quiet one I had expected, and certainly not the kind of "distraction" I desperately needed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Vacation Withdrawal

I'm back from my holiday in Spain, and instead of feeling jolly and cheery and rejoicing at the unexpectedly lovely weather here in Paris (surprise, surprise!) I'm exhausted...

I can't quite figure out whether it's because we didn't actually rest all that much on this trip, given we were walking quite a lot and visiting all sorts of interesting sites, whether it's just the dread of heading back to work and dragging myself through the day, or whether it's to do with my time of the month (I know, TMI, sorry about that)... Maybe it's a bit of all three, wrapped up together in one big shiny package. But I can't seem to keep my eyes open here in front of my PC at work, and I still have another three long hours to make it through this afternoon. Granted, I don't actually have a lot of work to do, it's quite quiet around here... But sometimes it's these moments that are the hardest, when the greatest temptation is to ease back in my chair, close my eyes, and forget the world around me. To be honest with you, I have seen some people around my office do that before, believe it or not -- I was shocked the first couple of times, but apparently it's not entirely frowned upon. I guess given the business lunches these guys partake in on a regular basis, with the red wine flowing and rich sauces abounding, it's no surprise... But still, in my position, I wouldn't dare.

But do you know those kind of people who come back from vacation and are just grinning from ear to ear, raving about their time in the sun, the wonderful things they saw, how utterly fabulous everything was, how happy they are, and how much of a great mood they're in as a result of their time away, which was exactly what they needed to restart their engines and attack their work refreshed and renewed? OK, don't kill me here -- but those kind of people make me sick! I just can't imagine coming back and going on and on and on about my holidays... Sure, I know the point of vacation is to boost your morale and put a new perspective on things, to come back rejuvenated and positive about your "clean slate," so to speak, but somehow I always come back wondering where all the time went, how it could have gone that fast, and when it will start all over again. Am I alone in this? And sure, I want to share some pictures and stories, but I also don't want to bore people to death nor rub their noses in the fact that I actually did go away for a week or so and escape from the humdrum routine of daily life here in the city.

In any case, I will do my best to share some lovely stories about my adventures in Andalusia, but bear with me -- I'm going to need some time to adjust...

Monday, March 5, 2007

Magical "M"

Wendy at A Baguette on My Table gave me a letter a few days ago, and after some reflection, I've come up with a fairly satisfactory list -- quite a few things out there that begin with the letter M appeal to me...

In fact, I'm mad about:
  • Murakami ~ The one, the only. This one's a no-brainer; I've mentioned this genius here before, and his name keeps resurfacing in so many places in my travels. I've learned a bit about him since I started reading his books, and I'm always hungry for more... I think I will never tire of his work. I basically discovered him in 2004, but then I went on a Japanese literature kick for the whole summer and Murakami was one of many other authors I read... Most recent purchase: Le passage de la nuit, his latest French translation (actually, that's not quite true: my boy picked it up for me!). It will surely find its place in my luggage for Spain... What I find a bit odd is how Murakami's French and English translations are released at such different times -- I imagine there are different translators working on them, so that would explain the lapse between editions. But I just saw that Le passage is going to be released in English in a month or so, while I'm still waiting for the French translation of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Again, I prefer the French translations to the English -- I can't quite explain why -- so I'm holding out 'til that arrives in French. I just feel that they're closer to the essence of his writing, but of course I can't read Japanese, so maybe I shouldn't even be saying that. You may disregard it if you like! I guess I should just say that I prefer the way Murakami "feels" in French than in English. It's a sensorial thing.

  • Max & Co. ~ My favorite shop in Paris -- at least for the moment! An Italian marque, the younger, supposedly "hipper" version of Max Mara. And there's only one address in Paris: 19, rue Montmartre in the 1st arrondissement (and a small stand at Printemps, but in my mind that doesn't count) -- while there are something like 300 addresses in Italy! Ah, they have it good, la dolce vita most definitely. I did some terrible damage to my bank account when in Rome two years ago -- thank God I only had a weekend! Who knows how dangerous a longer séjour might have been... I have to stay away from there if I don't want to take any financial risks. Their stuff is gorgeous, but quite pricey -- it's always best to hold out for the semiannual sales in January and July. But I love to go in and dream...

  • Muze ~ A somewhat new magazine published by Bayard Presse, a large French publishing company also responsible for quite a lot of children's magazines and books. I'm not providing a very good introduction to the mag, I'm afraid -- I need to give this some more thought before sharing the details in a future post. But this magazine has quickly become one of my favorite monthly reads. I even called up to order a back issue from October 2006, which I noticed in this month's pages, and I'm waiting (impatiently!) for it to arrive. Their cover by-line is "Culture-Allure-Littérature" and you'll find all of that and more. I couldn't pass up February's issue with, yet again, Murakami in a rare interview and a piece on amour in literature through the ages. There are book excerpts, short stories, movie and music reviews, and information about what's going on in Paris. In short, a relaxing yet stimulating read. I highly recommend it to any francophones out there!

  • Music ~ It had to be included here, of course... Music in all of its forms -- I have eclectic, eccentric taste, ranging from classical to French pop to alternative/indie and loads in between... And I'm always open to something new! A good song can alter my mood and lift my spirits in the darkest of times. I don't know what I would do without it.

  • Melons ~ But not, of course, in the same sense as Wendz refers to them on her blog! I love melon season, right in the heart of summer, when the canteloupes (as we Americans call them) are ripest, fragrant and sweet, the perfect complement to the saltiest of Italian hams, or the melt-in-your-mouth goodness of an excellent prosciutto... Ah, I can't wait!

  • Matisse ~ I'm a color girl; I LOVE color, and to me, Matisse is the king of color and color exploration. I'm only a novice when it comes to art history, but I know what strikes me, and his dazzling pieces have always left a strong impression on me, going back to when I visited Nice and the Côte d'Azur for the first time in June 1994 and discovered the Matisse museum... Which brings me to my next "M"...

  • Museums ~ I haven't been visiting them as often in recent times as I did in the past, and I'm determined to change that this year. I've missed out on too many good exhibits, including Yves Klein's at the Pompidou. So I'm planning on putting a few on my calendar in the near future. Nothing beats a quiet afternoon wandering around the galeries of one of my favorite museums -- I haven't been back to the musée de la Vie romantique in ages -- tiens, there's an idea!

  • Milan Kundera ~ The Czech author with the French heart... There's an article about him in today's International Herald Tribune! Shame on me, I've had Le Rideau on my bookshelf for more than a few months, and I still haven't gotten around to reading it. At least it appears that the English translation is just being released, so perhaps I can catch up... But one of my favorites will always be The Unbearable Lightnes of Being. A more recent discovery was L'identité.

  • Mo Willems ~ An extremely gifted and hilarious artist, cartoonist, illustrator... I fell in love with the Pigeon when I was working in children's books, and I bet if you check him out, you will too! Mo's webpage is good fun for adults and children.

  • Mushrooms ~ Especially morilles! Probably some of the priciest ones around, so I don't get to eat them very often, trust me, but a nice chicken with morilles in a cream-based sauce is to die for...

  • The Muppets ~ They bring back such great memories (I even had Muppet bedsheets, with Miss Piggy and Kermit floating down the front and sides), and anytime I hear the theme song it makes me smile. Check this out -- if it doesn't make you laugh out loud, you have probably lost your inner child...
  • Maitresse ~ One of my favorite bloggers, she has a sharp eye and an even more convincing way with words. I look forward to her posts on a daily basis -- but I know she's balancing a heck of a lot in her life! More power to her, I say...

    And last but not least:

  • My goddaughter Maëva and her twin sister Moéa, little angels who have a constant sparkle in their eyes. I don't get to see them nearly as often as I'd like!

Friday, March 2, 2007

Spanish Inquisitive

So next Wednesday we're off to Andalusia for a week, and I have to admit that I'm a bit at a loss as to what sites we absolutely MUST see, which museums we MUST visit, where we MUST savor the best Spanish cuisine... And I don't want to miss out on some of the best things the south of Spain has to offer! You know how it is when you head off somewhere, a little unprepared, and after spending a fairly lovely week there, you come back home and find out from some of your closest friends that you didn't visit such-and-such, and how could you have missed out on this-and-that? And you grate your teeth, wondering why these things weren't so obvious at the time... And why no one mentioned them to you before leaving!

I am, unfortunately, one of those lesser-prepared-type traveling individuals: I do usually bring a guide or two, and I try to make an effort to learn a few phrases in the language, but this is coming from someone who is used to living in France and speaking French, so for some reason all the other countries seem intimidating somehow. I know that sounds ridiculous, but that's just the way I am. And since this trip is particularly unexpected (given the fact that we booked our plane tickets on Wednesday and reserved our hotel room in Seville this morning), I have a feeling that we may overlook some essential aspects of the Spanish experience.

The funny thing is that when I was a student, back in the good ol' 1990s, I was so wrapped up in the French way of life -- culture, language, civilization, literature, etc. -- that all the other European countries seemed to fade into the background, or let's just say I wasn't in a big hurry to see them. I figured I should focus on visiting as much of France as I could while I was there, rather than run around Europe and try to see as many other countries as possible, as quickly as possible. That's just not my way of doing things. I tend to arrive in a country and make my way around bit by bit, improvising most of my decisions and visiting what feels right at the time (I'm a vibes kind of gal). This approach has led me to make the most of many a trip, although in some cases I did miss out on some sites that I probably should have seen at the time. But I've found that some of those "must-see" spots are sometimes so overhyped, and so overly swamped by tourists, that the visit itself ends up being spoiled by the stifling crush of people and the exaggerated gestures of locals desperately selling their wares to said tourists -- right up next to the unbelievable monuments.

Case in point: when my boyfriend and I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a long weekend in Rome two years ago, after running around the city for two days trying to squeeze in all the most crucial monuments, and experiencing a particularly hellish afternoon in the massive crunch of tourists at the Sistine Chapel, we ended up renting bicycles on our last day and trekking around the Villa Borghese... We spent the afternoon off the beaten path, and visited the National Gallery of Modern Art -- which is essentially the last place people would (expect to) want to see in the ancient city of Rome. But this is exactly where we had the best time! A lovely lunch in the museum restaurant, a leisurely walk around the gallery, and afterwards the perfect opportunity to see some of the churches in the nearby neighborhood in the warmth of the late afternoon sun (and I unfortunately have not retained the names of these churches, although their images remain engraved in my memory; Italian is not my strong point, although I love the language!). I even discovered what has become one of my all-time favorite portraits in the National Gallery of Modern Art, a painting by a lesser-known Italian artist, Vittorio Matteo Corcos, which stays with me even today and which I later re-discovered on the cover of an excellent coffeetable book (quickly purchased and put on display in my living room): Les femmes qui lisent sont dangereuses. [A book which deserves an entire blog post devoted to it, but this will have to wait until I can do it justice... You can see examples of more images from its pages right here.]

Of course I'm not saying that one should avoid every tourist attraction -- that would be ridiculous, because after all we are all tourists at one point or another, and that's sort of the whole point of traveling to another country. But like Jenn has pointed out over at NPLI, tourists can be so unbearable sometimes, and I think I'm a bit sensitive to this -- so I try to avoid displaying the same kind of behavior when I'm abroad.

I think our plan will most likely be to improvise a good portion of the week... I will page through the guide on the flight down and probably mark up some inspiring spots. And I know that Spanish is quite close to French language-wise, but I have never studied it myself; thank goodness my boyfriend speaks a bit.

And all of this of course leads me to my first official Internet Blogger Request: given that I have a few days left before our departure, I thought I would ask YOU out there if you have any great recommendations of hidden corners or off-the-beaten-path wonders that made your visit to Andalusia unforgettable... Any suggestions for me? Inquiring minds and all... And I will be forever in your debt!