Well, That Was Unexpected

Real life is stranger than fiction...depending on which authors you read, of course.

Saturday, March 01, 2014


I am near the end of my journey on the camino de santiago's camino del norte, I am in a cafe in Sobrado, waiting out a rainstorm only to see that the forecast for the rest of the day is a 100% chance of rain. Ah, sweet futility. As a bonus, please take a look at this hilarious "sculpture?" of a hipster pig made from cured pig parts and wine. I've been staring at him for 2 hours. He has a lanyard that indicates his name is Jacinto and that he is a volunteer with this local "comision de fiestas 2014." Indeed, party pig, indeed. The wine is made from a local grape called mencias and is super delish . (had to get one in for the foodies.)

 Last night I stayed at the monastery in Sobrado, which is attached to a lovely church. The only other pilgrim at this stage in the low season is a partially toothed man named Joseph, who has the requisite odour de pilgrim and has brought along his dog for the journey. It was me and Joseph and the dog in our room last night. I was not super excited about this, but was too exhausted to care or do anything about it. When we woke this morning--with the monks, at 7am, natch--we can hear that it seems to be monsooning outside. Now, one gift that the camino has given me is persistent enough rain that I had to buy full body rain gear (think the full body condoms in Naked Gun, but with a hole for the face and space for a monstrous backpack.). The amazing thing about full body rain gear is that it allows you to tromp through the rain with childlike abandon. This is mostly magical, albeit a little cold. The problem is that at some point too much rain obscures your vision (despite your super brilliant pre-camino move of buying contact lenses) and turns your path into a giant pool of lakes and mud. and while my body and backpack are nearly waterproof, my shoes are merely resistant--ie, subject to becoming fungal cesspools when plopped in mud. So, I am waiting for it to end and scouring my guidebook for a different path.

Joseph gets up to use the bathroom and walk his dog, looks outside and says "oh, we cannot walk in this" and leaves.  I had been listening, praying it wasn't as bad as I thought. I peeked outside. It was worse. Joseph returns with two cups of coffee. One for himself, and one...for his dog. He then says "I spoke to the Father and he says it is no problem for us to stay another night." He then proceeds to drink his coffee, and coax his dog to finish his own bowl of coffee. I said "I don't know what to do." Joseph says, "Tranquila..." and proceeds to stare at the wall while absentmindedly scratching his ridiculously well-behaved and adorable dog. It is clear to me at this point that Joseph is actually a Tim Burton character. He's the weirdo I found mildly scary who is actually super kindhearted and self-assured and has a firm grip on some of the great mysteries of life. He can teach me many many lessons about life quality .He carries a small transistor radio and a stick which he has adorned with feathers. He stares at the wall a great deal. He is a good dog owner. He allows enough time in his journey that he can "tranquilo." He is not walking on a 35 day pilgrimage to the airport in Santiago to catch a flight. he is on a journey with no particular end. Damn him. I hate recognizing this and knowing I am in no position (forgive me, knowing I am not in a WILLING position) to learn from him and embrace this. When I leave to find an internet connection to see how I can manage this part of the journey and, for the thousandth time, forget my hiking poles, Joseph runs to find me and says "just in case you do not return tonight." 

Joseph, I hope that someday I grow up to be like you. Until then, I have to walk in the rain. I have an airport to get to.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Margaret, are you grieving?

 Spring and Fall: to a Young Child
   Margaret, are you grieving
   Over Goldengrove unleaving?
   Leaves, like the things of man, you
   With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
   Ah! as the heart grows older
   It will come to such sights colder
   By and by, nor spare a sigh
   Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
   And yet you will weep and know why.
   Now no matter, child, the name:
   Sorrow's springs are the same.
   Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
   What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
   It is the blight man was born for,
   It is Margaret you mourn for.

--gerard manley hopkins.

Even I am surprised by how regularly this poem comes to mind. It seems so often that when I am trying to pinpoint the root of a particular sadness that the line "It is Margaret you mourn for" clearly pops into my head as if to say, while I grieve for others, and I grieve for situations, invariably I am also mourning for myself, for past, present, and future events that have happened or that now will not happen (usually love). One of my best friends is losing a parent. Obviously I am sad for her because I love her so much, but I also find that part of me is preparing the grief I will feel when my own parents pass away. I see in her children the children I don't have, and that if ever I do have them, inevitably some of the most formative and beloved people in my life will be described through pictures and stories "your great grandpa held the record for piloting and surviving the world's highest plane crash, made nurses laugh on his deathbed, and drank whiskey the second he got home from open heart surgery," "your step grandpa was a police-scanner-listening, hard-liquor-drinking curmudgeon who was also a dog whisperer." I can't really bear to think of what I'll say about everyone else, and it probably isn't healthy to do so except to highlight for myself how much I care for them now. And of course, my life will also be summarized. Hopefully. But thinking about that probably is a very healthy thing.

I also find it interesting that when I recognize this feeling, particularly by this line of poetry, it's like a light at the end of the emotional tunnel, a cognizance and structure for me to get out and through, piecing together my coping and understanding. Seasons are changing, the cycle of life and deathcontinues, the feeling of hope and loss of hope is made tangible.

I don't remember when I first read this poem and why it became so powerfully linked to my feelings of empathy (it's fairly obvious how it became linked to my feelings of mourning), but it resonates, and I wanted to save it and my associations in writing, because it's an ephemeral thought that floats in and out of my mind mostly when I'm gloomy, and sometimes when I have nothing now to do but sit on hold with Chase bank. So I decided to catch it. There are many other poems that speak this emotional language to me. If I hold long enough I'll probably find them. Apparently the other plight I was born for was to be born in an era of automated phone systems. I mourn for us all for this, but in a much different, more Guy Fawkesian/ fight club way.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What I whine about when I whine about running

Marion, Alain, et moi
So I signed up for my second half-marathon, the Las Vegas half in November. Why would I do this, sane people might ask. It turns out that the amount of effort I have to put in to remaining merely fat and not tipping into the realm of people who need to be cut out of their houses is monumental and nearly insufferable, especially in the US where the food is made of bullshit. Ergo I need motivation to exercise—at the very least the guilt of spending money on an enterprise usually sparks like 25% more activity than if I didn’t have said guilt, and running is cheap, relatively safe, and an activity beloved by my father and one of my best friends. Also, the LV marathon in particular is supposedly really fun (down the strip at night), really flat, and really cold. All of these things appeal to my desire to “run” as lazily as possible. Interestingly, though running just for the sake of running and not getting anywhere still strikes me as a bowl full of crazy, it is also a perfect sport for the borderline introvert/extrovert. Running is a way to be alone but with other people, and instead of talking ad nauseum about nonsense like how we all work for pay and where we grew up and wow, how funny it is that we all like the same tv show, and, geeze, politicians all suck,etc. we can just quietly all bob past each other and like, give each other thumbs up or say “good job.” It’s a wonderful bubble of quiet togetherness and encouragement.
Since I’ve signed up for the “race”-- which I put in quotation marks because I literally don’t think the pace I “run” (let’s just use the word “go”) at would ever be characterized as a pace at which one is “racing” or running, unless it were a “race” against crawling babies—I’ve done a lot of physical activity. Miles and pools of sweat on my elliptical, for instance. Hiking Cowles Mountain has suddenly become very compelling. But I had forgotten a critical fact about running: it is terrible. So, it’s been two weeks since I signed up for this half marathon and I’ve just now gone on my first run. My internal dialogue has a trajectory something like this, “I am a lioness of a woman for getting out and running…wow, it’s only been five minutes…man, this is unpleasant…ugh, my old high school,  why do I run here? Paris was a lot funner and colder to run in…this is so irrational…sunscreen is in my eyes, burning burning, how have we not invented technology to air condition the outdoors?….yes, Robyn, it does hurt with every heartbeat, oh Robyn how are you the dance master of conveying all human emotion…I hate everyone and everything, mostly the ancient greek messengers and that stupid village in the Mexican highlands that inspired the craze that inspired my zero drop shoes…my God, my God, why have you forsaken me…oh, endorphins…weeeeeeeeee…this is still awful, but not more awful than being in high school, I’m so glad I’m not young anymore…wow, I just caught my reflection and I look like Medusa…and…done.”

Luckily I have a modest goal: I just hope to finish before the course is being cleaned up. Why would this be my concern? Well, here is what I wrote to my actionmovie-fast, but supportive of my turtleyness friend, Lisa after finishing the Paris half marathon:

Well, I thought a full run down of ½ marathon day happenings would bore most everyone, except for you! So, as you knew, I was a little trepidatious about the half because of the lack of training and also my cold (which still hasn’t totally gone away, lamely). Anyway, 40k registered, and I think the final tally of starters was like 32 or so. We were in 5 corrals, split from your speed down to mine, mine going last. Dad says they took an inordinately long time to let each corral go, so the gun went off at 10am, but then my chip start time wasn’t until 10:55, which will figure in later. So I started running with two Americans I met who were going at a pace too fast for me, but I knew I would be walking some of it anyway and I figured why not try to go a little faster than normal to hopefully make up for when I knew I would be going slower. This was an interesting experience. First I got my runner’s high way stronger and earlier than usual (which is super sweeeet) but then it also made me thirstier and have to pee WAY more. Which resulted at the 5k mark in my running into the forest and pissing in a bush, and by “forest”, I mean more like a wooded park across from some French homes. I won’t be wearing my bright purple running pants into the 20th arronidssement again, that is for sure.

 Anyway, at around the 11k mark it becomes evident to me that I and the 5 other slowsters around me are in fact the last people still running and that there is a crazy police car weirdly close to me. I was thinking to myself, “do I have enough humility and commitment to come in dead last?” which was weird to me because, while I was very slow, I was still at like the 14 minute/mile mark which I was told would be slow but not like DEAD LAST slow. So I’m like actually doing better than I imagined with my cough, but I’m like having visions of this police car picking me up at the end and parading me around in front of everyone like “this woman here is the last place finisher…tell her what she’s won for this ignominious achievement” (besides what I imagined would be the mocking and chastising glares of other finishers.) so for a few kilometers I was thinking I should just foul out and like try some other race. But then a competing vision in my head was that of finishing and posing with my medal with my father, and that while I would be sad and ashamed for a few minutes, at the end I would say I finished a half marathon and indeed I had the cajones to deal with being last. So I soldiered on as they literally were dismantling the course around us. I caught up with Alain the other seemingly last runner and he was looking at the sweep bus, considering getting on. I said, “I think we are last” and he says “yes” and I say “do you want to finish?” and he says “yes, but I know I won’t if I’m alone.” And at this point I had another mental decision to make because I was getting a bit of a second wind but Alain’s jog was like my fast walk…a phenomenon that has heretofore never occurred, that of me being faster than anyone who isn’t injured or disabled. But I figured since my time was going to suck anyway, and all I wanted to do was finish, I might as well finish in tandem with someone and hopefully help him have a mental victoire as well. So we “ran” in together the last 7k, during which we saw a girl who had totally broken her foot and was being red crossed (I won’t lie that there was a little self-congrats that we weren’t insane enough to actually sacrifice our health). At around 19k we found Marion, who was a new mom and was walking it in because she hurt her calf and also didn’t want to be last.  So we all crossed the finish line, thinking we were last, but last together. First of all, that was incorrect because there were actually secret slowsters well behind us. Also, I finished at like 2:05, which meant that I did a 3:10-3:15, and when we looked at the results there were at least a few people who finished with 3:30 or slower. But they had actually stopped the timer at 4 hours from the gun. This is why my dad said that I got screwed for being honest. I was honest that I was in the slowest corral and so my time didn’t get posted whereas these other people who were in faster corrals finished slower but still within four hours of the gun. And that’s why I don’t have an exact time. So that sort of blows. But it’s not that big a deal. They at least acknowledged that I finished. It’s sort of shitty to know that if we’d managed to just get in like 5 minutes faster we would have been within the gun time. But c’est la vie. I’ve just finished with a super successful whirlwind tour of Paris, Switzerland, and Lake Como in Italy with the parents and I need to detox from all the pasta. So I’ll be running my usual course around the louvre and the Eiffel tower next week, It makes my dad suuuuper jealous.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pilgrimage to W.H. Auden's House and Grave in Kirchstetten, Austria

As I've matured (think wine and cheese) I've stopped pursuing any particular activity simply for the sake of its uniqueness. For example, I used to listen to godawful bands in my youth because I wanted to be "unique" and noncommercial. These days I'm much more comfortable embracing my preferences no matter whether millions of others prefer them, or only a few. For example, when I wanted to live in Paris, this was not unique, it is in fact the most visited city in the world. I didn't care. I wanted to live there even if everyone else in the world was going to come along. And I did, and I loved it. Now, I didn't think that my love for WH Auden was quite in the "Paris" realm of popularity, but neither did I think that I would be boldly forging a path that has virtually not been documented in the English language. Yet this is, in fact, what happened.

Now, I knew that Auden died in Vienna and was buried near his home, the first he ever owned, in Kirchstetten, Austria. I saw that this was a town outside of Vienna and it didn't cause me too much pause; I mean, it was documented on Google maps and I had read an article on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Auden's death which mentioned that it was an hour train ride outside the city. Very good, I found it on a Viennese subway line and felt confident. Now, the website for Kirchstetten the town, which has some info about the Audenhaus, is a little lacking, one might say, but hey, there is a website. Oh naive, Julie. I called the  main number to ask about the opening hours of the Audenhaus. Well, the city council says that there are no official hours, rather you are to call the family who now owns the house, specifically a woman named Brigitte whose phone number is given, and you arrange a time with her. Well, Brigitte isn't answering her phone. Time is of the essence, though, and I need to get out there whether I can be let into his study or not. This is seeming a bit peculiar, I mean, Auden isn't Shakespeare, but he is arguably one of the preeminent poets of the 20th century (I should mention a fleeting memory of when I visited TS Eliot's birthplace near St. Louis and it is in fact a factory, appropriately in the midst of a suburban wasteland, that now makes tanning beds.) Whatever, it's a small village, I'm thinking I can make my way when I get there.

The train ride is in fact quite straightforward and one is dropped at the doorstep of a tiny, wooden train station in the type of friendly, sleepy suburban town that I like to catalogue in my head in case I ever run afoul of the law and am so committed to life that I need to disappear, fake amnesia, and reinvent myself as a barmaid ala Edward Norton in the movie the 25th Hour. There is one bank. There is one bar. The bar is the only thing with anything going on. I gather my courage and ask where the Audenhaus is. I mean, I'm thinking it has to be the biggest thing that ever happened to this town, so they will all know where it is. First of all, I have to revert to my high school German, because in an Austrian  town where the local hotspot is a place that looks like an old mini-Cocos where people still smoke indoors, their English isn't great, i.e. it simply isn't existent at all. (I suppose here is where I give a begrudging shout out to my high school German teacher, despite dropping her class after two years because of general detestation in her direction.) It takes a relay of four people before the elderly cook comes out of the kitchen and gives directions to a man who then maps them onto a piece of scratch paper for me. I would complain about their lack of sufficiency except that it was becoming painfully clear to me that I was lucky that anyone knew anything about my very favorite, and, arguably the best poet of the 20th century...who had lived in their midst. Kirchstettenians were too busy drinking beer and smoking indoors on their lunch break. If Auden had lived here when he had written Musee des Beaux Arts I would have made the connection immediately. They "had somewhere to get to, and sailed calmly on."

They assumed I was driving a car. I was not. I was making this pilgrimage on foot. a) isn't that how all the best pilgrimages are made? and uh, b) the rental car fees were way too expensive and the town looked tiny, and I'm a prolific walker. sehr gut, ja? nein! The locals were perplexed. The barman made me promise to come back and tell them if I was successful. I managed to say something about calling the polizei if I wasn't back in 4 hours. He clapped me on the back. Did I mention that this part of Austria is going through a heat wave? A heat wave that came on so quickly that my hotel's air conditioning unit broke under the pressure of the cooling needs of their patrons. Sweating profusely at night in a Hilton. This comes into play 3 miles later in a forest. Wait for it.

Anyway, I'm told to make a right at the fire station, denoted with a star on said featured map, and then other vague arrows that I, again, very optimistically, assume will become clear along the path. The street opens up to a scene which reminds me of nothing more strongly than the vista in the Shawshank Redemption in which Red hitchhikes up to the hay field in Maine where he finds money and directions to Mexico. I might be melting, but at least there is great promise ahead. My "map" tells me that to get to Auden's house I take a right; to get to the church where he attended service and was buried, I take a left. I want to take a lot of time with his remains, so I decide to head for his house. Thus began the long death march from hell, something he might have written about from Nanking (that's how he wrote it, not me.) Now, in reality, while his house is, in fact, hard to find, it's not quite as hard as if one had, say, a real map. A map that had a few extra accurate forks in the road, say. But I didn't, so after 2 miles of incorrect treks through a forest during which a small boy on a bike and a sunbathing woman finally pointed me on the right direction, I was cursing myself for clearly choosing the wrong VW Beetle-driving, loud-hymn-singing favorite poet. Another curious fact for me was that this alternate path was littered with references to some dude named Josef Weinheber, an Austrian poet who is definitely the town's favored son. So I now associate this rando, Weinheber, to a big Austrian suckerpunch. I feel this is also a good time to announce that I once had a Viennese lady on a flight tell me that the forests of Austria had no mosquitoes. A painful bite on my head would like to inform you that this is incorrect. More painful bites from rabid ants on my ankles would also like to attest to the fact that while perhaps not festering with mosquitoes, the Austrian forest is not a place you want to get lost on a hot afternoon. or any afternoon, methinks. I was also pretty sure that this was where my episode of Law & Order: International was going to begin.

Anyway, sunbathing lady pointed me down an overgrown forest trail that did, finally, lead to his house. And while Brigitte had not answered her phone, luckily her shirtless 15 year old son was happy to take a break from mowing the lawn in front of the trampoline to unlock "the museum." I am happy to report that this was quite a moving moment for me, to see where Auden worked and see his apperitifs of choice (gin!) and his house slippers and typewriter. I also left my mark, in the form of a pool of sweat that fell to the floor as I was toweling off in the room. Also in the guest book where I noted that the last visitors had been there a week ago. So...not the Paris of poet destinations. (But still enough to warrant a sign down on the main village road.  or even the 3rd main village road. or the 5th main village road.) Sorry, I'm still traumatized and have lines of salt all over my leggings.  Salt from the inside of my body excreted through my pores and dried onto my clothes like a Utah landmark. Everything about me smells bad right now.

Anyway, after bidding adieu to my favorite Austrian teen, I headed to the church where he was buried. This was a much easier prospect now that I had basically mapped out the whole village of Kirchstetten on foot. (Need a map? Message me.)  Again this yahoo, Weinheber, was the main attraction, but Auden got a shoutout on the church entry map. I like thinking of him going to church every Sunday and loudly singing hymns in this Catholic church, even though he was Anglican, in his slippers and sitting in his spot in the back. Since he did love it so much, I suppose it is appropriate that his grave is right behind the church and not even 10 meters from where he would have sat in the pew. His grave is simple and full of plants. I like that it is full of so much life. Sadly, that life includes lots and lots of scary black biting ants and so my plan to pay homage with hours of loving reading and lunch with my sir was cut short and I poured a bottle of wine mostly on his grave, partly in my mouth, left him a memorial cigarette, and proceeded to the one bar, which Auden also frequented, to read some memorial verses with cheap, delicious Riesling and the many villagers who had just finished their workday. The barmaid and the barman were both, in incomprehensible-to-me German, very happy to see me alive and said something to the effect of "it was there?!" Ja.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Baby French and the marche

I'm taking French lessons in Paris. I believe I speak at the level of a 2 year old. So, I was in the Franprix, my local market, shopping away, and I remembered that while my landlord had some extra detergent, I had no dryer sheets. So I head to the detergent section and, as happens virtually every time I enter the Franprix, I become paralyzed. I am staring at a huge wall of godknowswhat. I am like a child, picking things up...shaking them, possibly sniffing (in the dairy aisle)...hmm. The French can actually be very kind, especially if you are really apologetic and polite, so I ask this girl coming down the aisle if she can help me. And I now know just enough French to be ridiculous. So I say  "I am searching for a piece of paper to put in the dryer." In my defense, I think in the states this would be enough to culminate in dryer sheets. But she is flabbergasted and skeptical, like I might be a firestarter. I believe firmly in my request so I repeat my "paper for the dryer" plea. She starts picking up boxes...and shaking them. She finally settles on some sheets that help prevent color leakage in the washer. Which is...also helpful, but not dryer sheets. Defeated, I resort to English and say "you know, those sheets of paper you put in the dryer that make clothes not stick together." and she says "I have never heard of that." For good reason. The French (and possibly all of Europe) don't use dryer sheets. You can wash your clothes with liquid or powder or tablets or dissolving sheets or weird plastic pods, but when it comes to drying, well, you're on your own. In their defense this is probably because so many of them line dry their clothes, which is anathema to me. The ladies at the laundromat confirmed this lack of any type of destatifying product. They were passing the time helping me with my baby French homework. (I had a super fun time explaining to them, as to my classmates earlier in the day, why an American would find the French word for shower, "DOUCHE", so funny. They were like "on American movies we have heard this word "douchebag", and we know it is bad, but what is it, a bag for the shower? ah, mes amis, non. since I'm on the subject, on a continent famous for bidets, the concept of douching was met with resounding puzzlement and a little horror.)

This incident leads me into my next get-rich-sort-of-quick scheme. I am going to be the Europe's first importer of dryer sheets. I am going to corner the market. When I explained the concept of the dryer sheet to my classmates, particularly the Swedes, they thought it was a brilliant invention. and I was like "they cost almost nothing but magically your clothes have no static."et voila!

But back to Franprix. the dairy aisle at Franprix is usually what gets me in trouble. For instance, did you know the French don't really put cream in their coffee? Just whole milk. so the concept of half-and-half does not exist. what does exist, however, are a variety of creams with varying fat content....is 12% fat more like half-and-half or 30%? If asked on the spot, I wouldve gone with 50%, but that's because when it comes to all things domestic, I am like Nell, the female version of the Faulknerian manchild. (12% is even thicker than half-and-half, if you are interested or also domestically disabled.) So I was back to my picking things up and shaking them routine. And I resorted to...asking a nice French lady which cream I would put in my coffee if I were to put cream into my coffee like an American would. And she confidently directed me toward a container of creamer I had automatically dismissed because its picture was of someone *pouring cream over a huge piece of SALMON*. But she was absolutely correct. I've experimented with the others, and their texture isn't right. Salmon creamer for the win!

My most recent Franprix dairy aisle confusion came when I was looking for an approximation of Greek Yogurt. The only brand that actually said "greek yogurt" was way too creamy. But I believe that if the US can have 10 brands of Greek yogurt, then France (so much closer to Greece and so much more needing to prop up its economy by buying it's wares) should have like 50. But I see only the one. So I explored, looking for high protein but low fat content. and I found something called "fromage blanc." It's everywhere. 10 brands, 10 sizes. But is it cheese? it says "fromage" but is in the kilo container normally reserved for yogurt or costco sized sour cream. And it costs 1.5 euro for the store brand. So I ask at the checkout counter "is this like yogurt?" and they go "no, no it's...well, it's creamy and you can't eat it for dinner. It is meant to be eaten at breakfast with sugar" okay, and I say again "comme yaourt?" (like yogurt?) and they again say "no, no" I'm going to save you another 10 minutes of boring discussion and tell you that it tastes exactly like frickin plain yogurt. Leave it to the Europeans to be intensely precise about identifying dairy products.

The incident reminded me of when people in Taiwan would say "oh you have to try this snack at the night market near the university, it's some meat and vegetables wrapped in dough and then boiled or fried" and I would say "you mean like dumplings?" and they would emphatically say "no, they are definitely NOT like dumplings, they are very unique" and I would go and try them and they would be...like dumplings. but maybe  a centimeter smaller than a normal dumpling or rectangular and fried. In fact, in Taiwan there are probably 15 words for things that are dough wrapped around meat then boiled and or fried. But the size or shape of the wrapper...whether there is juice inside....like a whole new world. not like dumplings at all. Except for being exactly like dumplings.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Just a smiling, eye-contactual, bare-legged tramp

Now, there were many things I noticed upon first moving to Paris, things about which I could wax poetic as many before have done. Instead, I'm going to focus on a different observation: dude, these men are too aggressive.

Not being the type of beauty who was ever stopped in the street, or stopped anywhere, actually, due to my looks, I was floored in the first week when two men stopped dead on the sidewalk and said "excuse me" (and I thought they were asking for directions) and then said "can we have coffee. now?" I think this is the type of experience I am supposed to treasure, ah oui, romantic Paris. I, however, am not only an American, but an American who has seen way too many Law and Order SVU episodes. So I respond more like "stranger danger!" because I am highly suspicious of anyone who would stop, well, not just me but anyone, in the street and be like "let's get together." And this has now happened to me, oh at least 10 times in the past month, the last time being outside the laundromat tonight when a man who reminded me muchly of a younger version of the guy who plays professor Lupin in Harry Potter, spoke to me rapidly in French and all I understood was "beautiful, see you, neighborhood, come to my house, glass of wine". Earlier this month, I was starting to think that maybe I had hit my sweet spot. France: a whole population of men genetically designed to be enamored of moi... I had been sadly socialized as an American who was destined to be revolted by the men who would love me.

Being who I am, though, I couldn't really take it at face value. I had asked my classmates, who are younger and very lovely, whether this was happening to them as well and they responded "no" or "very rarely". Hmmm. So one of my classmates who has already lived in Paris for a year, says "do you smile at them?" and I said "I smile at everyone." and she says "you can't smile at them, they think you want to sleep with them...do you also make eye contact with them?" and I respond, again "Of course, I make eye contact with everyone." and she says "oh no, you have to stop that immediately." so, what I'm gathering is a perplexing paradox that in a country where everyone kisses all up in each other's space when they greet STRANGERS, the fact that I acknowledge people kindly on the street somehow is elevated to the level of a full pass for a full court press. This whole exchange, by the way, reminded me very vividly of when I went to Moscow and St. Petersburg with Jane and she told me that I needed to stop smiling because it gave me away as a foreigner. "When you smile too much in Russia they think you have a mental disability," she said. SO I tried, I did, but I couldn't help it, and basically gave us away as a foreign foursome to be cheated and maligned even more than everyone in Russia is cheated and maligned by virtue of its very being. 

Another inkling I had in the first week or two was that my legs were being looked at a lot. Now, friends, I have very white legs. But the French are fairly pale, I couldn't imagine my legs being so shocking as to deserve notice. But it was starting to remind me of the time when I was in Amritsar, wearing a midlength skirt (to try and be respectful) and tourists were taking pictures of my legs because those six inches of whiteness were so scandalous that even the Golden Temple itself was not as exciting and phenomenal as my bare, white calves (um, but all their stomachs are hanging out, explain that to me). I also noticed as I looked down, walking through the throngs of people, that...no...one...else..in Paris (even in skirts and shorts) had...bare...legs. But this is France, in one of the subway stations there is a full, vagina and all, picture up as an advertisement for a famous photographer's museum retrospective. well, a friend tells me at brunch the other day "oh, only whores don't wear tights. even in summer." someone else said that only in summer would there be bare legs. whatever. 

All this to say, it turns out that my bare-legged beskirtedness combined with my doltish inability to stop grinning and acknowledging people, has made me appear to be a complete, 24-hour-access tramp. 

Regarding the smiling, I'm at a loss. I may be beyond help. But I bought leggings. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

To sleep

Priority 1 this week is to sleep at least 7 hours per night. I have a feeling that I've been too ambitious in my goals for each week, the sneaking suspicion that the goals I inevitably set out for a week are more like the goals for a month or a year...or a life.

A Julie-made to-do list (created over the length of any given plane flight) can variously contain some or all of these elements: eat well; sleep well; pray; read Bible/spiritual guidance; do one sudoku and one crossword a day to stave off Alzheimer's; read all HUD guidance that I've neglected to brush up on for the past 2 years; learn French; learn Spanish; practice Chinese; exercise; write letters to friends; pay bills; buy stuff I've been meaning, for months, to buy online; make a budget; watch movies on Netflix--indie ones, popular ones, foreign ones--especially Chinese ones to help with previous goal; update blog (this is a two-fer today); make more jewelry; sell already-made jewelry on etsy site (figure out way to take non-ghetto etsy pictures...and set up etsy site); take online classes in disaster relief; listen to TED talks; re-read Harry Potter series; read books of classic literature--up next Moby Dick and Pale Fire; practice for the LSAT; read the economist; read wired; plan trips abroad; call grandparents; write stories for Owen; post photos to Facebook...and I know I'm forgetting some that most likely have to do with fixing up my house and trying to get a roommate.

SO, this week I have one goal. sleep. that's it. I tried last night and it was sooo hard. My mind kept racing. funny things i wanted to post or email or text; thoughts like "should i take my vitamins now or in the morning?" but i was strong and stayed in bed. i think i slept for like 7hrs and 15 minutes. and i could tell in class that i was more alert. and by my diminished need for caffeination. i wonder how long it would take to make this a habit. i read an article that said humans have a finite amount of willpower, so if you use it on one thing, you lose the capacity for the next thing you want to be disciplined about. or, in my case, the next 40000 things.

we'll see. I will be deploying The Comfiest Shirt In The World. It's a black shirt so comfortable I prefer it to being naked. And I simply didn't think that was a statement I could utter.

I hope I have good dreams. A few nights ago I dreamt that I was eating pecans. So I bought some at the store roasted with salt. They are delicious. I wonder if pecans are the most flavorful nut. I also love almonds muchly...but mostly the blue diamond ones in salt & vinegar flavor, wasabi & soy sauce, habanero bbq, blazin buffalo wing...aka covered in delicious chemical crap. yummm. well. t-minus 15 minutes.

good night! xo