Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Just say no

I’ve noticed that French people like to say non.

It makes me think of a Portuguese guy I met in Horta, who was affectionately named Johnny Paradise. That wasn’t really his name, but the Dane mangled his real name and this moniker stuck. Besides strumming his freaking guitar at every opportunity, Johnny Paradise liked to talk about his ability to speak five languages, and how that had lead to his working at a travel agency. He’d manage to work, “Well, you know I can speak five languages…” into every brief conversation at least three times, lest anyone forgot. One of the things he said about the French was that their initial response to any idea, proposition or random thought was always, “Ce n’est pas possible.”

I hate to admit that Johnny Paradise was right.

I dissolved into giggles a couple of times while trying to open a bank account with different French banks because he hit it right on the money -- intonation, expression, and all. Thanks for the heads up, Johnny.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Running through Paris

I went running tonight through the streets of Paris. The lights of the Eiffel Tower were twinkling at me, the Louvre was all lit up like a beauty queen, and I had my own private moment of thanksgiving.

On a completely unrelated note, will the dollar please stop its drastic decline against the euro? This is killing me.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Beatdown on the Avenue de la Republique

Yesterday I saw two young women drivers go ballistic at each other in the middle of the Avenue de la Republique. One on a scooter, one in a car. Out strolling and exploring my new neighborhood and the ones nearby, I’d been looking mainly up at the buildings with frequent glances down to avoid skating through poo. I was jolted out of my blissful reverie by harsh invective. Then shrill invective. It only took a second to locate the source by following all the turned heads on the packed sidewalk. What was it? Car Driver had hit Scooter Driver, who apparently proceeded to lose her mind. She yelled at Car Driver at the top of her lungs. She got off her scooter in the middle of the roundabout. She stomped menacingly closer (still yelling) to the mini car that Car Driver wielded so ineptly. Car Driver responded with her own piercing screams, popping veins, and contorted facial expressions. This sent Scooter Driver over the edge, and, still wearing her helmet, she started pounding on Car Driver through the half closed window. Not for one punch or two, but for a prolonged time period – long enough for me to wonder a) if I should call the police, b) realize I can’t actually speak to the police; I don’t know the requisite fighting verbs, c) wonder if other bystanders might call for help, and d) ponder whether people would generally observe the smackdown but mind their own business in the end. Whatever. It was long enough for my thoughts to go wandering down these paths and a few others. Then they each drove off and the bystanders dispersed, shaking their heads reprovingly and sighing about how violent people are these days.

I lived in Brooklyn for a long time, but this is first time I’ve witnessed a beatdown administered through a window.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


We loaded up our little secondhand car (nicknamed “Hubbley-bup”) with all of our possessions, feeling proud that the packing each month for each city gets a little tighter, a little slicker, a little faster. Proud that we keep chunking material goods away with a nonchalant, “We don’t really need that.” The first round move, when D left New York to sail solo across the ocean and I parked myself in a sublet to wait and worry, was a debacle. Now I’ve got it down to a science. 30 minutes to tuck everything away.

The drive from Belgium was alternately quietly drizzly and stormy. Both of us were quiet and wrapped up in our anxiety about how this apartment would look and whether we’d even be afforded the chance to like it. Real estate roulette. After Anthony-from-California pulled a disappearing act on Saturday along with his apartment, we knew it was a possibility that we were driving for 5 hours for no reason. When the phone beeped to tell us that it held a message, my heart sank. No need, though. It was only a warning that the landlord-to-be was running late. So we arrived an hour early for the original appointment, scurried around in the rain trying to check out this famously trendy area with its mélange of inhabitants, then gave up and sought refuge in the car for the last hour. At ten till the hour we rushed to the building’s front door. “Should we wait for her outside?” No. She’d given us the code for the first door. We went into the vestibule and pushed the buzzer with her name on it. A few seconds passed, and nothing happened. A lady happened along, and we both whirled towards her with hopeful expressions on our faces. Are you…? No, sorry.

A minute later a teeny, dark-haired girl bustled into the doorway laden with bags and packages, and this time the response was affirmative. I tried to be careful not to show my excitement, since I hadn’t seen anything inside yet. But she was friendly and casual and easy-going, all things that the others had not been. She didn’t demand a gazillion papers. She just pointed out a few things that were quirks of the place and asked if we thought we’d like to take it? It was so easy. I stopped holding my breath.

And now we live in Paris.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Polish plumber

Just perusing the NYT. There are so few skilled workers in Poland that they'll have to hire peope from Germany, Ukraine, and Belarus?


This village suburb of Antwerp is beautiful. For a short visit. Meaning a week, max. D.’s family’s house is nicely secluded, set far back from the street with forest for protection in front. The same forest extends far behind the house. It’s a special setup; apparently the neighborhood doesn’t allow anyone to retreat so far anymore. Gotta love that Stepford spirit. Most of the other houses line up uniformly within easy reach of the bricked streets. There also must have been some edict for them to cut down all trees in the vicinity, too, and they’re all naked.

I’ve always hated ‘burbs of any kind. I can still feel the profound sense of relief I had when I moved away from my parents’ place in the soul-smothering, brain-numbing sticks of Atlanta to go to Boston. No more driving everywhere. No more in-between. Choose either the city or the country and commit to it.

I feel that same sense of stagnation all around me here (made worse by the constant presence of one family member who doesn’t work, go to school, or do much of anything besides watch TV – but that’s another entry). The forested barrier is closing in on me like some kind of leafy prison door. Must leave quickly.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Laura's NYC Tales/The Chris Rock story

I love this story:
Laura, when is your book coming out?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Fingers crossed

I haven't written much, not wanting so many variations on the same old thing. But...we might have an apartment! If this works, Anthony in California, I love you. Small, so be it. I don't care anymore.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


We drove from Antwerp to Paris with giddy anticipation. We're going to find an apartment! we thought. A stringent search through the PAP website had yielded a "loft-like" studio close to 50 square meters, and it might work as a home and a place for D. to paint. The owner answered our email promptly, a first in our Paris Craigslist experience (have the French caught on to the wonder that is CL? In NYC I used the site to get my apartment, my bike, my language lessons, and pretty much the rest of my life).

We parked easily near the prospective score. A reggae shop near our destination was a good omen. The guy had given us the codes to the first and second locked doors, indicating we should go to building X. Is that like cellblock X? I'd worried, picturing a compound of large, identical high-rise monstrosities. I'd pushed those thoughts aside. We needed to check out every possible option. The front of the building was fine in an ordinary way, and we entered the interior walkway. Rows of windows faced each other, albeit not too closely. The hallway and stairs of bulding X looked old and ill-kept, but the 3rd floor apartment boasted double exposure and lots of light. Too bad the gauzy curtains would have to be kept closed to peering neighbors across the way. No oven. A raised bed. I silenced all my objections and answered, "Yes, I like it," to my husband's hopeful, questioning expression. I could see that he was thinking, "I can paint here!" and he'd already put the stamp of approval on it. So we left an extensive dossier with the owner, hoping that he didn't aspire to identity theft. Does he shred those papers afterward? I wondered desultorily. I decided it was best not to think about those things, either. Much less common here. I hoped.

Afterwards we drifted to a nearby comfy cafe, where the bartender waved us breezily to any open table. Clearly he failed to convey that to the waiter, who was perturbed by our meager order of two cafe cremes. He pressed his lips together and stopped shy of a full roll of the eyes. We didn't care. We were protected by twin cloaks of apathy; we'd have plenty of time to win him over with our new apartment down the street and all. We'd be there all the time. We'd be regulars. He'd welcome us with open arms. All we had to do was wait to hear from Mr. XXX, the owner. He'd winked at me as we left, a message I understood as, "It's all yours."

On Monday evening, D. got the email: "I've rented the apartment. Sorry."

Maybe that wink simply meant, "I'M all yours."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

We had a sweeeet split-level loft in Brooklyn, but I couldn’t stand my next door neighbors on one side. That’s the thing about apartment living. You’re joined at the hip to all kinds of people against your will. I should have known these two would be trouble from the moment they knocked on our door to welcome us to the building. They came bearing gifts in the form of cut-up slices of cantaloupe.
Beware of people who are overeager. Healthy reserve is a good thing.
At the time I thought, “What a nice gesture. Awww…” Much later I saw its true ulterior motive: noseyness.
I wonder what our neighbors in Paris will be like.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The scratches

When D. and I arrived in Denmark to live on our friend’s boat, we found she’d had an unpleasant facelift. It looked like Freddy Krueger had caressed both sides of her hull with his long, razorbladed fingernails. We were taken aback; the last time we saw this gorgeous creature in the Azores her body had been in perfect condition.

Our friend relayed some vague story about an encounter with a fishing trawler in a lock but the details didn’t really add up. He seemed less than eager to talk about the debacle and our incredulous questions eventually tapered off. Luckily, insurance will cover the massive paint job that has to take place now.

Nice weather or not, people walk up and down the docks looking at all the yachts. They check out the rigging, peek in the windows, and stand with their hands behind their backs inspecting every inch. I think of the marina as a boat museum, and living here is like living in the Met. Someone is always observing/analyzing/assessing. The people looking at our friend’s boat have gotten predictable. Their eyes usually wander from top to bottom, then do a double-take when they reach the hull -- then a flurry of agitated Danish ensues. Even though I don’t understand, it’s easy to tell by their body language that they’re saying, “How the hell did they do that? Amateurs!”

I wish I could tell them that my expert-sailor boy is most certainly is not responsible for this mess.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Averted shower disaster

This morning I had a close call.

Let me back up. Since I became a nomad on a sailboat in July, one of my main quests has been finding access to hot showers. Clean bathrooms that have showers with strong, blasting water pressure. Bonus when they give you big, fluffy towels and soap, but they're marinas and not spas. It's a result of going for days without being able to have one. And of being a person who usually bathes 2 (in winter) or 3 (in summer) times a day. I know that's too much but I do it anyway, usually. I've been pretty enamored with this marina because the showers closest to our boat, although not free like the fantastic ones in Falmouth, fit the bill.

I packed my shower bag and walked over there this morning, only to find the doors locked. Was this because of yesterday's Perfect Storm that had nearly flooded the docks and left me in tears because the boat was too high for me to reach? I tried to ask a worker who ambled by, but he didn't speak English. One of the things I've noticed about Denmark is that everyone speaks English... until I need practical information, at which time they all run for cover.

I decided to take a chance and continue to the showers that are a little farther away. In these, the water pressure is lacking but the rooms are luxuriously heated. I hesitantly reached for the doorknob, just knowing I was going to get shot down. It turned. They were open. A sigh of relief escaped my lips. It's the little things!

I ditched my clothes and turned on the knob, dropping in my 5-kroner token. As if to reward me for my inconvenience, the hot water stuck around ten times longer than its allotted, meager 3 minutes. I even washed my hair (a huge endeavor you'd understand if you saw my hair).

This 40-minute sequence of events is so inconsequential but it made my day. I left that shower whistling and smiling at everyone I passed.