Thursday, June 28, 2007

La Honte in Le Havre

Picture this, my dear readers, blogging friends: a darkened room where only my boyfriend, his father and I sit staring intently at the television screen (OK, check that, apparently the boy was dozing off...), watching Trois Couleurs : Rouge (I'm on a Kieslowski kick, I know), lounging on red leather chairs that look like they've launched directly off the Star Trek Enterprise. We're nearing the end of the film, it's after midnight, and I'm getting pretty tired. We spent the day walking around "central" Le Havre, where my boy's father lives, visiting the local bookshop La Galerne, which I love (and of course purchasing two books while there; I'm incapable of leaving a bookshop without a new acquisition...), as well as making a short drive over to Honfleur for a brief visit. We had greasy Domino's pizza for dinner earlier in the evening, believe it or not (yep, that's right, here in France) -- none of those fancy meals for us; we were simply too lazy this time around, and I didn't have the necessary ingredients (or recipes for that matter) to throw anything culinarily appetizing together. And, under most circumstances, his father is pretty laid-back and cool about that kind of thing. He's not too exigeant. And, well, a little pizza every once in a while never hurt anyone, right? Um, yeah, right.

That is, unless you're ME. Wendy-dear, you ain't seen nothing yet! I think I've got you beat, I'm afraid. At least for recent hilarity. On an embarrassment scale of 1 to 10, 10 being I'm-going-to-crawl-in-a-hole-and-never climb-back-out-I-swear-I'm-so-humiliated, this is a swinging 11. When it comes to embarrassing experiences -- really humiliating ones -- I think I must be the queen! And what is it about this sort of thing happening when you least expect it? And what is it about our bodies being completely out of our own control -- betraying us at the most inopportune of moments?

Yes, that's right, somehow my body betrayed me in front of my boyfriend's father. Late at night, in front of an intense, psychological film. I honestly thought I was fine; I didn't even see it coming... But when do we ever in circumstances like this? All right, what I'm getting at, if you can't read between the lines -- and because you're going to MAKE me write it here, aren't you? As if I haven't humiliated myself ENOUGH?! -- is that I passed gas. And unfortunately was not able to disguise it by blaming it on my boyfriend or the dog. My boy's father doesn't have any household pets. To my chagrin.

Needless to say, after that most horrible of faux-pas on Saturday night, my own eyes bulging out of my head while I stared at the television screen for the remaining 15 minutes of Rouge, not daring to glance right or left or to take in any reactions, I swallowed my pride and slunk up to our room on the top floor and fell into bed. I won't say that I cried, necessarily, but I didn't have the most restful of nights. OK, OK -- I know you're going to tell me it's no big deal. But just keep in mind that up until now my boy's father has, in most cases, made it clear that he quite likes me, aside for my over-sensitive streak which flares up from time to time. I enjoy spending time with my boy and his father, and in spite of the blistering, painful pangs that resonate in his mother's absence since her passing, we usually get along really well and even have pretty stimulating conversations. He's always really lovely with me, he never makes me feel ill at ease, and he even gives my boy a hard time when he's not helpful or complimentary with regard to my cuisine -- or my attire. In a word, he's a sweetheart. And I seriously do not want him to think less of me or to wonder about how I was raised...

So this -- I mean, really! WHY in God's NAME did this have to happen?! Of course, we're all human, and I kept telling myself that over and over again in my head Saturday night into Sunday morning. And maybe, in a sense, it should put me more at ease, right? Like, now we can all just be ourselves, naturally. (Ha ha -- yeah, right!) Again, ironically enough, my boy didn't even hear this happen, he was so dead-to-the-world, so when I managed to recount the incident to him after waking up the next morning, he was of course falling all over himself laughing. And he couldn't help but comment: "I think I might have sort of heard you, but then I thought to myself that you couldn't have done that."

Alrighty then. Way to help me recover myself and my composure.

Going down to breakfast on Sunday was no easy task -- but he did try to put me at ease, and here's hoping that all's *ahem* nearly forgotten.

Since the weekend, we had my boy's father over for dinner at our place, and I tried to make up for my lack of poise and elegance by throwing together one of his family's favorite dishes, une pintade aux pommes et lardons, with strawberries for dessert. As daunting as it may sound, it's actually really easy to make -- you just cook the sliced apples over the stove in a large pan with some butter and cinnamon, rub some olive oil, salt and spices onto the pintade, then put the bird in a Dutch-oven type casserole (I actually use a Römertopf, in terra cotta -- a wonderful gift from my boy's mother) with the shallots and a wee bit of water at the bottom... I left it for about an hour at 200° Celsius, but it may need a wee bit longer; the bird didn't seem fully cooked, so I put it in for another 10 minutes or so. After it's finished cooking, you can sauté up the lardons in a pan, add these to the cooked apples, and serve. See, easy as (apple) pie! And a perfect balance of sucré-salé.

We cracked open the one bottle of Rioja wine we had brought back from Spain last March (we would have brought back more if it weren't for those damn new European liquid-on-plane regulations) and it was gone in no time, which made it clear that we had made a good choice, but definitely hadn't bought enough.

I think beau-père was suitably pleased. But as to recovering my dignity, the jury's still out on that one.

* Photo of Le Havre's Port de plaisance courtesy of

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Paris-Lille, 24 Heures Chrono

Because my boy had some business to attend to (so to speak) near Lille this weekend, and as his one sister lives right nearby, we decided to make a speedy trip up for the day on Saturday night, staying until Sunday evening. The original plan was to head back out late Sunday, after all the Parisians had settled into their homes and cleared up the highways, but I knew from the get-go that it was a dubious plan, especially since my boy has been particularly exhausted in recent times, and that the prospect of him making that two-hour drive back was going to be tough for both of us -- since car rides always either make me feel nauseous, even at my ripe ol' age, or fall asleep. And I don't know which is the lesser of two evils, when I'm meant to be keeping my boy company and preventing him from falling asleep at the wheel himself. And we certainly aren't helped by the fact that his car radio-CD player went on the fritz recently, due to some electrical problems, and he still hasn't had the opportunity to get that taken care of so we can have some tunes to keep us company on the road. Something I literally live for when making any kind of long car ride.

And this is where my lack of a French driver's license kicks in and makes me guilty, as usual. My boy has never made a big issue out of it in the past, because to be honest, up until now I haven't really needed one, what with us living in the Paris 'burbs and using public transportation on a daily basis. The only time I do honestly regret it is in moments like this: when fatigue or sheer exhaustion hit my boy and I know I could be taking the wheel if I simply had the legal paperwork allowing me to do so. I rarely miss driving, though, to be honest; I did have a car of my own in the States, a slate-blue Honda Civic that I bought on my own, and paid off over a four-year period -- the only major purchase I've ever made as a responsible adult! I was quite proud of that fact for the longest time, that no one had to co-sign or help me out and that I used a downpayment I had saved on my own. If only I'd kept up those good habits of saving now... (I'm trying to mend my ways, but it's slow going...) I sold that car and got the Blue-Book value just before moving to France, so it's in the distant past now. But I sometimes get nostalgic for it... Even if in the end I didn't even drive it all that often. I would walk to the office or take the bus in most cases.

I did kinda like cranking up my favorite music and singing along as I trekked back and forth between my place in D.C. and my parents' up in Northern Maryland (and is it just me, or did longer distances just somehow seem shorter over there -- in spite of the fact that we have to go slower on the highways?! I would just get in the car and go, without a moment's hesitation...), but that was really the only part of driving I enjoyed -- the music. Which, as I've mentioned before, seems to be the case for many things in my life, so it's become a recurring pattern. The music was the only thing that made the longer trips seem shorter and kept me occupied on the road. Because of that, I'm sure I never could have done a lot of traveling by car for a job or the like... And the fact that my boy's car now cannot play any music puts more than just a small wrench in the mechanism for me. There's no lyrics to sing along to, no funny voices to imitate, no rhythms to tap out on the dashboard. And my voice certainly isn't entertaining enough to make up for it! We chat about all sorts of things, of course, but talking only seems to go so far. And it's impossible for me to read in the car.

But he's been badgering me about it a bit more often recently, and it doesn't help that one of his closest friends has been haranguing me as well, repeatedly emphasizing how astonished he is that I haven't gotten my French permis de conduire so that I can drive if I so desire, or if the need arises. I guess I'm realizing with time that I probably eventually will need it, especially since we may move further away from the city in the long term. So this of course begs the next question: do I start studying for le Code? Just the possibility, the very idea of having to do so is daunting to me... I've heard so much about the difficulty, the stress -- some of my colleagues have told me time and again that they would hate to have to go through with it again, so I already dread it, and I don't even know all that it entails. And then there's Sam's recounting of her experience, which has put the fear of God in me as well... Of course, she just recently passed le Code, which is an amazing feat in and of itself. So I guess that's proof that it is possible. And I do have other expat friends who have managed to attain the coveted Code and subsequently the permis. But my anxious nature often plays hijinks on me, and I just have a sneaking suspicion that it's going to take a heck of a lot of work on my part to succeed. Especially the driving part. Namely because I don't know how to drive a stick shift. (*Cue raucous laughter*)

Our trip up to Lille and back, in practically 24 hours' time, was basically a wake-up call to me... I knew in advance that my boy was never going to be able to muster up enough strength to drive back to Paris on Sunday night, especially after a long day and an early rising on Sunday morning. I briefly considered taking the TGV back on Monday morning and heading straight to work, but there were no reserved seats left on the train, and at that price I' m not about to spend the trip standing. The whole point of taking the train is to relieve the stress of driving and to be able to relax, at least in my book, so it seemed pointless to pay a fortune and not be able to sit down. So we woke up at 5:00 a.m. on Monday and hit the road a little after 6:00. I did make it to work only two minutes late, but the drive wasn't easy, for either one of us. It would obviously help things if we could take turns on the road. I tried to talk my boy out of even making the trip in the first place, because I wondered how reasonable it was, but any opportunity he has to spend with his family is precious to him, and I understand how he feels.

So there's another task to add to my growing to-do list these days... We'll see how productive I manage to be in the coming months!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Only Ten? (I Could Go on Forever...)

OK, OK I get it: you've all had enough of Tori. Tori this, Tori that -- I promise she's not the only topic I have on my mind these days! On the contrary, for once I'm sort of brimming with creative thoughts and reflections, so we'll see how productive I can make myself and share those things here with you and all the world. I've just been tremendously lazy these past few days, and I've been trying to catch up on my blog-reading. Now let's see if I can actually participate in some blog-writing for a change!

Oh, and on a side note, I just had to say thanks here in my own space to Petite, Le Meg, Mr. FwAB and Rhino for putting together the great Paris Bloggers' Picnic last Saturday. Yes, I did go (after hemming and hawing for days as to whether I would make it...) and I had a great time, but ended up leaving a little earlier than planned. Then again, I don't know if I had any particular departure time planned per se, so that may not be so true... Let's just say that my boy dragged me away kicking and screaming after he realized I had downed just a wee bit too much red wine. But that's nothing new! He doesn't say I'm the one with the bonne descente for nothing...

So that leads me to the point of this post: Ten Things about me that you may not (or probably shouldn't) already know, unless you're a mind-reader or are living the double of my life on the other side of the planet, like something out of La Double vie de Véronique...

Earlier last week my dear JennC at NPLI tagged me for a new meme, and this one I promised to participate in, even if it killed me... Which it may very well do, because although I'm sure there are loads of things I haven't shared about myself on this here blog (but apparently enough for certain somebodies to track me down and identify me though, eh?!) I'm not so sure all that many of them are "interesting". And that, dear friends, is apparently the goal of this meme. So "Ten Interesting Things" you say? Let's give it a go... (in no particular order)

1. I've always been crazy about illustration, cartoons or animation in some way, shape or form, but most especially as a little girl. It started out with a frightening obsession with Garfield (bear with me folks -- I was 9 at the time!), who I would draw everywhere and reproduce in all of my school notebooks. This eventually led to the creation of my own cartoon character, Binky the Mouse, who certainly would never be able to compete with our dear beloved Mickey. I also tinkered with the greeting card domain in my youth, drawing cards for family members and even trying to sell some of them. I distinctly remember a series of "Heart People" cards -- I should have had them syndicated! I moved into a heavy-duty Disney stage from 9 to 13, and then became fascinated with all things Pooh -- the Classic Pooh, thank-you-very-much, Ernest Shepard style, long before that particular fascination became popular. Now Pooh paraphernalia is rampant, mais bien sûr. I even bizarrely remember writing an Honors essay for a college entrance exam in which we were asked to create a holiday, and I decided that all children's book illustrators should be honored, and named E.H. Shepard as my prime example. I think a holiday like that actually exists now! (but I promise it didn't back then...) Wish I could take credit for it.

Later on, in high school, I mentored with a political cartoonist and toyed with the idea of pursuing that career path -- but I knew it wasn't for me when I realized how very much I abhor politics in general, and no matter how hard I try I cannot muster up enough strength or interest to devote more than 15 minutes' attention to a political discussion -- if that. So shoot me.

2. And this, ironically, leads me to my previous job posting in the U.S. before moving to France about five years ago... How in the hell I ever ended up there, I could not tell you really, aside from the fact that a random opportunity fell into my lap and I decided I would give it a go, even if it was only for six months or a year and if it didn't use any of the skills I had hoped to be using on a daily basis (namely my French...). That particular job had me, on one occasion, face to face in a limousine with Mr. Bill Clinton himself while he was being interviewed for Esquire magazine, one of his final interviews before the end of his second term of presidency. [As an aside, the author of that interview, Michael Paterniti, wrote a fascinating book about driving across the country with Einstein's brain in the trunk of his car. He was quite the character in person, too!] I did get to shake his hand before getting into the car (and quickly wish him a belated birthday) but I think the most memorable part of that experience was the deer-in-headlights look on my face as I tried to register the fact that if I didn't get that interview fully on tape, and if that tape was missing the slightest smidgen of dialogue, I would be in DEEP caca. (And I know about that look because I was recorded on video by military staff!) So how did a politics-abhorrent gal end up there? Again, don't ask; life sometimes throws us curveballs like that. But trust me, it didn't last long! (Especially since Bush, Jr. was soon to be in office, and I couldn't imagine finding myself in the same room as him in order to record his humdingers for posterity -- so I was transferred to an office at the State Department.)

3. Music played a huge role in my life for years (another thing missing from my daily routine now): I sang in a choir from the age of 10 to 21 and played the piano for even longer. I even had a music minor in college, although you could hardly tell now, given the fact that I haven't touched the keys in more than 10 years, I'm ashamed to say. I do miss it sometimes, although I think I was always playing for the wrong reasons. I'm hoping the desire to play, and the right opportunity, will arise when I least expect it, and that the notes will come back to me somehow. I'd like to think it's similar to riding a bike, but I know it's much tougher than that! I even think I've forgotten how to read music, and that frightens me. Strangely enough, when I sang in choirs, it was always with other gals, as I went to an all-girls high school and then a women's college. There's another intriguing tidbit for you! Singing in the shower today, in any case, can hardly qualify as living up to my musical potential. (Even if my boy finds this highly entertaining. Apparently it even brightens his day to hear me yodeling away in there.)

4. My first "real" concert as a teenager is also a reflection of my madness for all things piano-related: Billy Joel. (All right, all right, stop laughing -- these were the days of "We Didn't Start the Fire" not "Uptown Girl." Although I did end up loving all of his stuff! Oddly, I hardly ever listen to him anymore, although my older brother is still a fan.) Later on in college I saw Peter Gabriel -- now that was some performance! As you can see, my musical interests somewhat diverged at that point.

5. After all those years of playing the piano, and then my subsequent gradual love of all things French, I ended up becoming fascinated with Frédéric Chopin and his relationship with George Sand and managed to jangle those two interests together into an independent study in my final year of college, my justification for returning to Paris for three weeks in my final semester before graduating. This led to a paper entitled "Chopin : L'harmonie d'une double identité" or something of that sort, proof positive that I was probably not cut out to write university research papers for the rest of my life. I was (and still am, I guess) a pathetic romantic, and had a way of turning things so they all sounded stickily sweet and melodramatic. I still adore Chopin's work, but I was never able to play any of his work with true passion. My strengths lay in the domain of Bach, Haydn and Mozart... As romantic as I am, my perfectionistic personality tripped me up every time. And prevented me from truly interpreting any "romantic" work with personal flair.

6. I had a hernia operation in my belly (technically my abdomen) when I was four years old, and I hardly have any memory of it aside from visions of an adorable doggy puppet that I was alllowed to choose from the hospital gift cart after the operation. Of course, to this day I can't entirely forget that moment, though, as I have a scar just above my bellybutton that will remain there forever. And as a result I still feel uncomfortable wearing a two-piece bathing suit -- and I haven't even had kids!

7. That's not my only bodily scar, though, as a few years ago, in my tiny studio apartment in the 18th I managed to burn my right thigh with an iron as I attempted to do two things at once -- I never said I was very good at multitasking! Another reason why I now hate swimsuit season, as that scar is virtually impossible to hide or camouflage -- unless someone has some really powerful (and waterproof) makeup! I also have a tiny scar on my chin as a result of a backwards dive into the pool when I was about 10 -- trying to imitate my older brother, bien sûr. It was all his fault. The vivid image I've retained from that day is of my Olive Oyl bathing suit being stained by bright-red blood. What is it about me remembering what I was wearing in moments like that? Sheesh.

8. Like when my father had a stroke when I was 11; he was only 37 at the time. I was kneeling beside my bed with a hot hair iron in my hand, curling my hair under as my mother had so painstakingly taught me (without burning my ears in the process). This was 1985, people! To this day I have vivid memories of that morning -- and the peculiarity of my shorts-ensemble with tiny umbrellas all over it. I was preparing for Field Day at school. When I heard the commotion downstairs, I ran down and in the panic of the moment called 911 and proceeded to tell the emergency operators that my father had fallen off of a ladder while helping my mother clean the windows. In my defense, there was a ladder in the kitchen, and I think they were cleaning the windows together. But of course I didn't understand what had happened. All I could see was my daddy on the floor in my mother's arms, as she held a spoon in his mouth so he wouldn't swallow his tongue. He had in fact been helping my mom with the windows, and when I saw the ladder I put two and two together in my child's mind. There was no way I could know what had really happened, although I would soon learn and then speak about it at school in a future science class.

9. I can't stand anything science or math-related, so following my mother in the nursing profession was a virtual impossibility, even though I briefly entertained the idea in elementary school. I managed to get decent grades in those classes, but only because I was a complete nerd and studied like crazy for everything. But I am in awe of all those who work in the medical profession, including my best friend, who is a psych resident in New Orleans. To think that she's a doctor, and a really good one at that, is unfathomable to me. Yet it's true. And she loves it!

10. I hate the taste of licorice or anis, something I think I must share with a lot of other people out there. As a result, anything with those flavors, or something similar, including pastis or fennel, seems disgusting to me. There are a lot of things that I've grown to like over the years, and I know my tastes have changed enormously, but this is one that I think will remain unchanged.

Is it really obvious how completely unrelated most of these Ten Things were? Oh well, that's me in a nutshell. Just a jumble of random, unrelated information, and overflowing with contradictions! Someone recently told me this may be a result of the fact that I'm a Leo on the cusp of Virgo, something that probably also explains my extreme incapacity to make a decision. Does anyone have a cure for this?

Oh, and I believe I'm meant to tag some people out there with this meme thingie, although I'm not quite sure how many I'm meant to tag. But I'd love for y'all to participate! So let's hear it from:

Antipo (I'm sure she's done these before, but she'll make this real entertaining!)
Amy at C'est la Me
Colour Me Crazy (you haven't done this yet, have you?!)
Emily in France
Little Fugitive
Jennifer at RuebyStreet

Monday, June 4, 2007

On a Tori High

All day yesterday I was up on a Tori cloud, and I'm just about coming down today, although I'm still not fully recovered from the intense experience on Saturday night... It's true what Kyliemac said: no matter where you are in the performance hall, Tori's feeling resonates and her passion reaches out to you and sucks you in, in spite of yourself... I do wish that our seats had been a bit closer (you always want things to be better, right?!) but it really didn't have an effect on the musical experience itself. I just would have loved to have been able to feel like I could reach out and touch her, or at least watch her fingers fly over those keys, up close and personal. It's absolutely amazing what she can do... And her energy -- only one real "break" early on in the concert, and then a few short breaks near the end (before her first and second encore), but otherwise she performed for more than two hours straight, and it was non-stop magic! There is no other word for it.

So as I gradually come down from my cloud, I've been surfing the Net and reading pieces on her new album release, as well as watching interviews and performances on YouTube. It's funny how a concert like that can make you thirsty for more information, for more of the experience. I totally agree that American Doll Posse really packs a punch and is a huge contrast to her last album, The Beekeeper. I wouldn't say I was necessarily disappointed with that album, but it didn't really stay with me the way this one already seems to have done. I've been listening to the Posse for two weeks straight now, and I'm not yet tired of it! On the contrary, more and more of the songs are growing on me. I've even established my favorite "character" (Clyde) among the five personalities she created to represent each song. At first I thought I might find her inclusion of so many songs on one album a bit overdone, as Télérama claimed (although overall they still give the album a positive review), but now I believe I disagree: each one has its value and each and every one has its own particular feel and place on the album.

I wanted to post the video above from YouTube because I thought it was fascinating to see the behind-the-scenes work on the costumes and set-up for the album cover art. I got a kick out of this one...: it's an interview on the UK program Loose Women, from April 19th, which is fairly entertaining, and followed by a performance of two songs.

I'm glad Tori touched upon almost all of her albums during the concert, although it was surprising that she didn't perform any pieces from Scarlet's Walk. I imagine it all must depend on her mood and the location, as well as what strikes her fancy at the time. Of course, there may be many more things that come into play when deciding on a set list, but I think she did an excellent job of keeping us on the edge of our seats, and I waited with baited breath from one song to the next to hear what she would put out there. And of course, being the complete nerd that I am, I couldn't stop myself from keeping the rhythm right there in my seat. Why oh why don't the French get more into concerts, by the way? I have to admit I haven't been to live concerts that often here in Paris (I did mention that I was a bit of a homebody, didn't I?!), but I would have thought people would be up on their feet, singing and dancing along -- alas, this was not the case... Perhaps because the songs are in English? If someone can enlighten me...

Tori really must have been in a Pele mood, as Lauren and Kyliemac both pointed out, because she ended up performing four songs from that album, as well as an interlude "playing" of Professional Widow while she was taking her break. It was great to hear some of her lesser-known pieces as well, including Siren -- I love that song, but couldn't place where I had heard it before... Of course, Lauren saved the day for me once again by letting me know it was from the Great Expectations soundtrack. Now I seriously want to get my hands on that! (Anyone want to loan me a copy? Pretty-please?!)

I also finally pulled out my copy of Piece by Piece, the joint autobiography Tori wrote with Ann Powers two years ago, which I picked up back then but still haven't gotten around to reading. I believe now may be the time...

P.S. ~ I just wanted to add an extra little note here at the end to thank all the gals for a great evening out; the concert was unforgettable, and I'm so glad we were able to work out the details and make it happen! Long live Tori-mania...