Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saturday mornings are one of the best things about living in Lyon, because I get to go to my market. There are a lot of different markets in Lyon, and they happen almost every day except Monday, but my favorite is the Marché de la Parc Tête D'or, a fifteen minute walk from my house. It's big enough that I can find almost anything I want, but not so big that it takes ages to see everything. Best of all, it stays open until 1:30p, so I can go even if I don't manage to make it out of the apartment until noon.

It's open year-round and I've gone most weeks since getting here, but this time of year is so lovely - everything is ripe and beautiful and delicious, and as soon as you get close you can smell strawberries. Today it was just such a perfect place, and so full of the good things in life, that I couldn't keep a smile off my face as I did my shopping.

As if all that weren't enough, it's cherry season now! Cherries are one of the very best things about summer. I could eat them all day, and I would buy them at almost any price. Fortunately I didn't have to follow through on that, as things are not expensive at my market. :)

Here is a picture of my new favorite booth. Why yes, man behind the counter, the way to make me a loyal customer is in fact to feed me free cherries while I wait in line. :D

Seriously, how could you resist this?

Everything looked so delicious that I may have gone a bit overboard today, but I still didn't spend much more than 20€. Here is my bounty:
There were a lot more cherries when I first bought them, but I couldn't resist eating them while I walked home. They were perfect.

The purplish pods between the peas and the green beans are my experimental food for the week. They were labeled as "coco rouges" and I was instructed to shell them, but not to eat them raw. We'll see what I come up with.

It's been a good week. Almost everyone I've seen over the past few days has made a special point of telling me what an improvement they've noticed in my French since the beginning of the year, which although I still have a long way to go, is still very nice to hear. Last night I went out to dinner with two of my teachers from School 2, one of whom is Scottish (but has been in France for decades) and the other of whom is French. Conversation was in French, and I was able to not only follow what was being said but actively participate, with only a few instances of asking the Scottish teacher for a word or phrase. At one point, she complimented me on my accent by saying that I've done a better job of getting rid of my American accent in French than she has with her Scottish one, which I'm not sure I believe, but it was awesome to hear. (That's not to say that I pronounce everything correctly in French; just that when I mispronounce things, I'm at least doing it with sounds that exist in the French language, rather than sounds from American English.) I also got a compliment about it today from one of my coffee guys, and to top it all off, I just took a placement test for a French class I'm hoping to take in June and got the highest level they give. Of course, that's from a written (largely multiple choice) test and does not reflect the difficulty I still have thinking on my feet when trying to speak, but still, a huge confidence-booster.

(The one person who does not seem happy to see my linguistic progress is my old nemesis the concierge, who seems to resent the fact that I can now communicate my demands that he do his job and fix things, preventing him from simply staring at me like I am a crazy foreign lady and waiting for me to go away. I think he is frustrated that he has to make up real excuses now. But seriously though it would be nice to have a single working light in the corridor on my floor. And a light in my kitchen. And a working freezer compartment in the refrigerator. And a working back burner. FIX MY THINGS DAMMIT.)

Okay, I'm off. It's a beautiful day, and I'm heading out to a Brazilian music festival with Ana, then to Michael's for raclette and Eurovision and fun and friends. More anon.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Today was my last day at work. I won't say I'm sad to be done with teaching, especially since I'm lucky enough to be bowing out right at the time of year when kids see sunshine through the window and lose their minds at the thought of having to waste their time on stupid useless English. But overall, it's been a solid year, and my kids have been really sweet to me over the past few weeks as they've found out I was leaving. Among other things, I have received:
- Four classes' worth of sweet things written about/to me on blackboards
- One "card" (i.e. sheet of paper) full of adorable goodbye messages, including my favorite, "you will miss me" (written totally accidentally and non-ironically - the grammar of that phrase is the opposite in French, "vous me manquerez").
- One surprise party, including homemade cake from one of my girls! :)
- Three dinner invitations by teachers, at least two of which I will happily accept
- An unexpected 20€, since they are actually refunding my money that I never spent at the school cafeteria and forgot I had even given them
- Many many lovely sentiments from various members of the staff, especially at School 1. Okay, only at School 1; no one at School 2 actually realized I was leaving apart from the teachers I work with. But I'm okay with that.

So I've come to the end of this phase of things, and today I realized suddenly that I have no idea what to do with myself, now. "Suddenly" isn't entirely accurate; honestly, for about two months I've been thinking about very little other than what my Next Big Thing is going to be. But I forgot to think about what happens in the meantime, before I leave here, and what I want my days to look like.

As I type this I'm sitting out on my balcony, the one with the gorgeous 14th-floor view of the rooftops of the city and the full yellow moon. I have these moments here, looking out at this view or walking next to the river or noticing the way the warm afternoon light plays across the buildings on the presqu'île, where I can't imagine ever leaving this place. I've been struggling with that a lot lately, and for all the time and thought I put into it, I don't seem to be any closer to convincing myself what to do.

If you asked me to list everything I want in a city, Lyon has almost all of those things:
- It's really, really beautiful.
- Getting around couldn't be any easier - transit goes everywhere with decent regularity, and if I'm out after the metro I can take a free bike from anywhere in the city to anywhere else, or I can just walk. Relatedly, I can also get from this city to almost anywhere in western Europe with a minimum of hassle. At absolutely no point during this year have I thought "man, this would be way easier if I had a car."
- It's safer than basically anywhere else I've ever lived, at least in my experience (I don't have stats to back it up, but it feels true).
- There are innumerable small, non-chain shops in which to buy basically anything I need.
- There are not one but two rivers, which is something I've missed since leaving Boston.
- Financially, living here is really easy, especially since I'm eligible for a hefty housing subsidy and (of course) really cheap and available healthcare.
- It doesn't snow very much or rain all the time.
- Supermarkets here are kind of awful, but actual markets along the lines of farmers' markets in the US are everywhere, and almost every day, and cheap. Since I don't like buying packaged things and I do like buying real food and interacting with the people who sell it, that is pretty awesome.
- I get to speak French here, which I love. Although really, it could be any of my languages and I'd be just as happy.
- As a whole, people here are very friendly and polite, and patient with my limited French.
- And then there's an intangible - something. I feel easy here, like nowhere else I've ever lived. Even in the middle of winter, I never had a day where I walked out of my apartment and thought "damn, I hate it here." That sounds like a low bar to set, but it hasn't been true of anywhere else I've ever lived - that's not to say I've hated them consistently, just that they've all had their moments of that. Here, if I'm having a bad day, I can almost always make it at least a bit better just by going out into the city. I'll see something beautiful or interesting, or I'll have a short chat with my coffee guys, or I'll overhear a funny conversation and be proud of myself for understanding it. Something.

So Lyon has all of those things, which is great. But here is what Lyon doesn't have:
- Any opportunity for meaningful work. I could, without much hassle at all, come back here again in September and do the same job again. It would be even easier this year since I have all my lesson plans, there would be a minimum of grief, I would meet the new assistants and make friends, and it would probably be a pretty fun year. I'm not saying that's not appealing in some ways, but I'm kind of at a point in my life where I want to have a real job, one that's going somewhere and doesn't have an end date. One that involves me doing work that's actually useful to someone, rather than the glorified babysitting gig I have now. And ideally, one that pays more than the bare minimum necessary for survival, so I can have a bit of a safety net that isn't my parents (not that I don't appreciate all the help they've been giving me! Hi, Mom & Dad). And in France, with my current qualifications, I basically can't get that. I don't have a European BA, and frankly although it's much better than it was a year ago, my French isn't up to the task. My options here, as far as I can tell, are either a) English assistant or b) bartender in one of the numerous Anglophone bars around here. Neither is exactly what I'm hoping for.
- Quite frankly, very many friends. I met a lot of amazing people this year, who I consider good friends and hope to stay in touch with - but they're gone, they've moved back home. I didn't get to know a lot of French people this year, mostly because even after eight months, my language skills are not really to the point where I can consistently follow conversation among native speakers. Especially if that conversation is taking place somewhere remotely loud, like a restaurant or a bar. Don't get me wrong, I've met a lot of friendly French people and several of them have gone out of their way to include me in things, but at a certain point I get tired of constantly asking people to repeat themselves (or more likely, pretending to follow the conversation until someone asks me a question and I get caught out).
I know I would make friends here eventually; the bigger and more important point is that I really miss the friends I already have, back home. Of course, this is where it bites me that I've moved seven times in the last six years; it's not like it will ever be realistic again for me to want to have my good friends all in one place. And that's part of what goes into this too - I'm getting tired of moving, and I can't decide where to stop.

There are other things that play into this, of course. With my relatively limited language skills, there's a lot going on around me that I don't really get, and that I would very likely be troubled by if I did. I only have the barest sense of how politics work here, so issues that would really get to me back home just sort of aren't part of the picture when I think about France. I'm definitely not saying ignorance is bliss here, and it's getting less true as I understand more, but I can't help wondering how much is going on beneath the surface that would start to bother me if I stayed here for longer.

Last night I had a really interesting conversation with Michael and Imogen, two of my Australian friends, about race and how it's perceived and dealt with in the US vs Australia vs France. One of the conclusions that we came to is that issues of race seem to be a lot less dealt with here than they are back home. I'm not trying to say that in the US it's something that's been taken care of or that we deal with it effectively, but I think most people who live in the States have had to at least think about racial issues at some point in their lives. Most people (not all, but most) are reasonably good about avoiding blatant racism, even if they're not so great at questioning the stereotypes that they hold on a subconscious level. Here, despite the fact that there are some pretty serious racial/cultural/ethnic tensions going on between ethnic French people and the north African community, it just doesn't really seem to have taken hold that racial slurs are serious and potentially hurtful even if you think you're just kidding. The other night I was at a small get-together at which a French guy, the friend of a friend, said something that roughly translates to "man, it's really hot in here! I should buy myself a little Indian child to fan me with palm fronds." Our mutual friend, who is an Anglophone, reacted pretty much the same way I did: wide eyes, and what essentially boils down to ". . . did that just come out of your mouth??" The reaction from the French guy was basically "oh come on, English speakers are soooo PC, it's totally obvious I was just kidding, why are you making this into an issue." And honestly? I don't think he was lying; in his own head, I don't think he is racist. Unfortunately, that's not the same thing as actually not being racist, and it's a pretty widespread attitude here.

Another (though comparatively minor) example comes from my classroom - for several weeks I was showing all my classes photos of some of my friends, and they would describe what they saw in the photos, try to guess their hobbies and jobs, and ask me questions about their age and family and whatever else they could figure out how to say at whatever level of English they had. One of the people I showed photos of was a friend who was born in the US and is of half-white, half-Korean descent. When I asked the kids to describe this particular friend, in almost 100% of my classes someone would pipe up with "She is Chinese!" To which I would reply, nope, guess again. Eventually someone would go ahead and ask me "what is her nationality?" and I would say, well, she was born in the US, so she is American. One of her parents was also born in the US, and the other was born in Korea. And every single time, the response from the kids was basically "hey, that was a trick question! We already guessed right when we said she was Chinese, and now you're just nit-picking." I didn't really get into it with them, largely because of language barrier issues, but I did try to express the fact that this is an American person, just like everyone else who is born in America and everyone else who decides to become American. Nationality and ethnicity are so divorced for me, having grown up in a place where they are basically different by definition (you can't be "ethnically American"), that it still really jumps out at me how much that is not the case here. Half my kids, if I ask their nationality, will tell me they are from Algeria or Tunisia or Morocco. A few of them really were born in north Africa, but if you ask them specifically, most of them were born in France, and many of them have never been to "their country" at all. Which, in terms of who they consider themselves to be, matters exactly not at all.

I'm not trying to add fuel to any "they just won't integrate" arguments. It's not just that the kids self-identify that way; it's that a whole lot of ethnically-French people would 100% agree with what they're saying and would (at best) be confused if the kids tried to describe themselves as French. They have French passports, which from my American perspective kind of settles the question, but somehow what passport you carry and what nationality you are considered to be don't have to be the same thing. I should make the point that these are not radicalized kids; these are not the kids you heard about a few years ago rioting outside of Paris. I teach in good, fairly middle-class schools where kids get disciplined for "excessive rudeness to teacher" and "refusal to take out his workbook until 45 minutes after the start of class" (quoting here from discipline notices on the teacher's room bulletin board), and there are basically no fights or violence of any kind. This is an extremely mainstream view. France is a country that bans "all religious symbols" (meaning the hijab) from its public schools, then turns around and holds school-sponsored Christmas tree sales every December. This is a contradiction that got me funny looks every single time I pointed it out; if I got any response at all, it was "well Christmas trees aren't really Christian; it's just a tradition we have" [note: the French for "Christmas tree" doesn't actually contain the word "Christmas," so that sounds slightly less ridiculous on its face than in English, but not much]. Leaving entirely aside the fact that "no religious symbols" is enforced if a girl wants to cover her hair, but not if a student (or teacher, cough) decides to wear a crucifix necklace.

Anyway. That got long-winded and a bit off-track. What I'm saying is that in terms of almost anything rational, I should probably be making plans to move back home. I'm qualified for at least some of the kinds of jobs that I'm interested in, and I can get things done without a ton of effort trying to figure out what people are saying to me, and I miss my friends a lot. And even though I'm not really ready to say that our culture is better than French culture, I understand it better and have a better handle on what its pitfalls are. Every time I sit down and write this out and really pore over all the details of staying and going, I convince myself that I should start looking for a job and an apartment in DC. And then I turn off my computer and go really anywhere at all in this city, and I can't shake that thought of how can you ever leave this, how could you be thinking about walking away. So I don't know what to do, and I don't make plans, and I find myself at the end of my job with no real idea of what is supposed to happen next.

In any case, my lease runs out in a month and four days, so I suppose I'll have to know by then. In the meantime, it's summer, and summer is one of my favorite things.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I had hard time with my high school government teacher. I found him overly sarcastic, and was put off by (among other things) his habit of imagining he'd told us things that he had mentioned only in other classes. But on the second Thursday of school that year, after we filed in, he got us quiet and asked us just to listen. I remember I'd been dreading that day and the flag-waving that would come with it - it had only been two years, it was only about six months after the start of the war, and I was prickly about what seemed to me the exploitation of an essentially private grief. I remember trying (and failing) to get across why it so upset me that people who had watched on TV from far away should feel entitled to just as much grief as people who had actually lost someone they knew and cared about, as if the abstraction was worth just as much as the actual lives. There's a debate to be had there, I know, but I still fall squarely on that side of it. What I'm saying, I suppose, is that I was waiting to be upset by whatever came out when my teacher turned the cd player on.

What he played couldn't have been further from my expectation: Pie Jesu, from Fauré's Requiem. It's a fairly quiet piece, and high, a soprano without much to back her. In that moment it was the perfect gesture to make, marking the day with solemnity and respect and stillness and the beauty of her voice. When it was finished he moved on with class without a word about it, letting the music speak for itself.

A week ago I returned from a beautiful and blissfully email-free vacation to find a message waiting from the mother of a childhood friend. He had missed a bend driving in the middle of the New England night, gone off the road, and died instantly. It had been a dozen years since we'd seen each other and at least a year since last we spoke, but somehow he was never entirely out of my thoughts - a light in the back of my mind that I knew was shining somewhere in the world, if not near me. My twelve-year-old self was so sure that we were supposed to be in each others' lives that in the face of all evidence, I never shook off the assumption that we would find ourselves in the same place again and pick our friendship up where it left off. And now he's buried in Massachusetts and I'm in France, trying to figure out how to believe in finality.

A few days ago Michael mentioned offhand that there was a Belgian orchestra visiting Lyon to play the Requiem, so last night the two of us and Hannah went to see it. I guess it's not cool to just openly like things now, so even the program was full of self-deprecating notes about famous people who hated Fauré and swore they would turn over in their graves if his music were to be played for their funerals. I don't care, particularly; I don't need to have sophisticated taste. To my ear they played well, and the Irish soprano had a lovely voice.

When the concert was finished, we went down to the berges du Rhône to celebrate Hannah's last night in Lyon. While we were in the auditorium, half of Lyon had been watching their soccer team go down in utter defeat before Bayern. Much to our confusion, the remnants of the crowd were nonetheless in perfectly good spirits, drinking and chatting and even singing in the streets. We spent the rest of the evening just enjoying each others' company, laughing (particularly at Hannah's fake-indignant opinion that all these happy people should rightfully be going home to cry over their defeat) and talking about what happens next. Then Hannah and I velov'd home together for the last time and said goodbye.

It's a shame that the first entry in a while that I write all the way through is such a low one; it really has been a very happy several months for me. I have a folder full of half-written blog entries that I put aside and then don't get back to until they seem irrelevant, but I'll try to make something of them soon.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

[I've been jotting down things to write about for months without ever quite getting around to actually posting. No more! I have a shiny new computer, several weeks without guests, I'm almost done lesson planning for the next few weeks and best of all it's no longer February, the month when all I want to do is sleep. Hooray!]

Since I like black coffee, typically I prefer to save money and make it at home. But before I got around to buying a coffee maker (and figuring out where to keep one in my "kitchen"), I got in the habit of buying my morning espresso from these two guys who run a coffee cart essentially right in front of my building. They're pretty much the nicest and friendliest guys ever, and talking to them never fails to put a smile on my face - and given that I am still definitely not a morning person, that's well worth the paltry 1€ that they charge for a black espresso. They also remember my order and start making it when they see me coming across the square. Here's a picture, stolen from their Facebook page:

I don't think I can get away with calling them friends, given that we don't even know each others' names, but I'm happy to be able to chat to them a bit before dealing with my morning commute. And they seem to enjoy telling me things about Lyon, at least judging by the way one of them sulked when he found out someone had already explained the Fête des Lumières to me before he got a chance to.

They both lived briefly in the UK (which is where they got the idea for a mobile business selling coffee that you drink while you walk - neither concept has caught on much here), but their English isn't all that much better than my French, so they're really patient and willing to teach me how to say things. A few days ago it was really foggy, so while I waited for my espresso I asked the word in French. One of them gave it to me and asked the word in English in return, whereupon his friend jumped in with "je sais, c'est 'frog!'" ("I know it, it's 'frog!'") Adorable. :D It's impossible to be too self-conscious about my speaking after that, so I just go for it and find myself explaining things like the US environmental movement and death penalty politics and exactly what we do on Thanksgiving that I had no idea I knew enough words to express. My spoken French is still largely a mess, but as one of them told me, "tu te débrouilles" ("you manage"). It's getting there, if still more slowly than I want.

This being France, their hours are flexible - ostensibly they're open 6-6, but they have no problem closing early if the weather is too stupid to make it worth bothering. I find that refreshingly sane - in this society, they can trust that their customers will think more along the lines of "good, I'm glad they're not out here freezing to death in this sleet" than "dammit where are they they're supposed to be making me my double caramel mocaccino."

Anyway, what reminded me that I wanted to write about them was that on Friday morning they had the radio on, and one of them (on the right in the photo) was absolutely belting along with Radiohead's "Creep" in his French accent. I waited to see, and yup, he kept right on going when he hit the falsetto. Made my day. :)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I wasn't sold at first, but I'm really starting to come around to French Sundays. When I got here there were so many things I needed to get done that I found it really frustrating that everything was closed. But it's pretty easy to plan around that, and I've definitely started to appreciate the idea of a day in the week that is just your own time. You can't run errands, so it's not your fault when you don't, and even the transit is infrequent, which creates the perfect excuse and opportunity for staying home and catching up on whatever you want to do. Like blogging. :)

December was a busy month, in the best way. I wasn't sure how the holiday season would go, being far away from home, but it was filled with friends and good cheer and general loveliness.

The holiday season kicks off in Lyon around December 5th, which is the start of the Fête des Lumières, or Festival of Lights. A few centuries ago there was plague in France, and evidently the city fathers negotiated some sort of bribe with the Virgin Mary that they would light candles for her forever if only the plague didn't come to Lyon. It didn't, and over the years the tradition of putting candles in the windows on the night of December 8th has morphed into an over-the-top, all-out, four-day lighting extravaganza complete with short films projected onto buildings, laser shows, and fireworks. What seemed like all of France descends on the city (especially this year, because the first day happened to be a Saturday), and it's a huge city-wide party. People set up tables everywhere to sell spiced wine and roasted chestnuts, and all of the light shows are free, and I had a thoroughly excellent time. One of the main things is that different organizations will commission light shows tailored to a specific building, so that the projection fits it perfectly, and it will seem like the action is happening in the building with characters going in and out of doors and windows, and cool things like that. Here's a video of the show at Cathédrale Saint-Jean, which is about the design and building of the cathedral:
(It's probably better to watch this one with the sound off, since it's mostly just crowd and wind noise.)

Here's the show at the Préfecture, which was probably my favorite.

I went three days out of four, and had a ton of fun. One of the coolest displays was this little courtyard where they had set up two projectors, one at either side pointing to the opposite wall. They were just projecting moving geometric shapes, but between the two walls, they had strung up this totally crazy display of very thin wires. Some were strung straight across, and then from them hung all different curled and crumpled wires going in all directions. In the dark you couldn't see that there were wires, you could just see little squiggles of light dancing in the air as the lines and shapes hit the wires and moved across them. That's probably a really confusing explanation, but it looked really neat.

I think my favorite night was the first, because even though the crowd was way too big for the city streets here, everything was so festive and the crowd was really happy and I made some new friends - Michael brought his roommate Sonia (an assistant from Georgia who I had met before but not hung out with) and Darius, the German assistant from his school. Toward the end of the evening we also ran into a bunch of the other German assistants, all of whom speak English that puts my German to shame, and we drank cheap vin chaud and spoke three languages and had a beautiful time.

Next up: Christmas in Berlin. :)

Friday, January 15, 2010

French bureaucracy reminds me of those logic games we used to play in 6th grade, the ones that you solve by making a grid and marking off boxes until you're left with the right answer. I can't think how to explain them, so here's an example. There's always a point where there's some key piece of information that you didn't notice or didn't get the significance of, and once you figure it out you can X out the rest of that row, and that leaves just one space in a certain column, so you have that answer too, and suddenly the whole puzzle is complete. The difference, of course, is that I knew all along what I needed and just didn't have it. But no longer! After three and a half months on the job, I finally have my pay stubs, and have spent the week destroying my to-do list. Somehow, getting that paperwork seems to have coincided with a period of what I can only describe as Being In The Zone - literally everything I have needed to do has suddenly been easy. Bureaucrats have decided not to care whether I made appointments, and have smiled at me and accepted my sometimes-questionable paperwork and my bad French and told me everything is going to be fine. Offices have mysteriously added lunchtime hours on my busy days. Strangers have stopped to give me directions to half-hidden locations before I even realized I was lost. There is simply no way that it can last, so I've been trying to do as many things as possible before the magic wears off.

In the past week, I have:
- Sorted out my medical visit/visa validation (appointment is next month) and obtained an official paper stating that it is in process and I haven't actually overstayed
- Obtained paperwork from my landlord stating how much I pay in rent in order to qualify for a housing subsidy
- Submitted large sheaf of paperwork demonstrating my (lack of much) income in order to get said housing subsidy, which might be as much as half my rent. This included sweet-talking them into accepting the aforementioned official paper in lieu of an actually valid visa.
- Changed my address with my bank, who will hopefully now stop sending me things at my school.
- Submitted paperwork to enroll in state health insurance. Technically I have been covered since I started work on Oct 1, but I'm not in their system until this goes through, so I would have had to pay out of pocket and then file for reimbursement after my paperwork was in. Now, hopefully I won't have to deal with any of that if I get sick. (And I might even be able to get the bloodwork I'm about to be due for, wouldn't that be cool.)
- With pay stubs in hand, went to the community center a three minute walk from my apartment to ask about their sliding-scale yoga classes. Found out I can go for only about 3.75€ per class, which is excellent! I like this country.
- Booked tickets to Copenhagen next weekend! Procrastinating really paid off - this morning tickets were 100€ round trip, down from almost 300€ a couple days ago. Teesa will be there for a conference type thing, so I'll have good company and a free hotel room. Excellent. :)
- With the help of the kind-hearted stranger mentioned above, made my way to the city's lost-and-found warehouse in the middle of nowhere to retrieve my stolen wallet. I didn't mention this here, but right before the holidays someone came up behind me at a very crowded metro station and unzipped my bag, which was slung across my body but behind me. My own fault; it's almost the only dodgy part of town, and I know better than to keep my bag where I can't see it in that kind of crowd. I noticed within about five minutes and immediately canceled all the cards, but what I've really taken out of this experience is that Lyon has some of the world's most considerate thieves. They took my wallet out of the bag, but left everything else, including my ipod, camera, cell phone, passport, keys, and notebook. They then apparently removed the small amount of cash, but left everything else (US drivers license, credit cards, transit card, etc) and left the wallet someplace where it could be found. In the wallet was my meal card for School 2, so the city sent me a letter there to let me know. Seriously, where else would that happen? This is a good city.

Today I also had the latest in a series of funny encounters with my building's concierge, which is roughly analogous to a superintendent. These started shortly after I moved in, when I went to go and let him know about some minor problems with the apartment. Since my French is fairly shaky, I tend to prepare for things like this by going over the whole speech in my head, and this one started off with me telling him which apartment I live in (which is tricky because French numbers are not my friends). When I found him, he immediately threw me off my game by saying "oh, you're the girl who lives in apartment 1404," which I still have no idea how he knew. This of course left me flustered, and what I said came out something like this:

"My roommate and me, we have some small problems. We have... the... burning thing? For [in Spanish] cooking? I'm sorry, for [in French] cooking? There are two? This one, the one here, the front one, he works. But the other, the one back, he doesn't work. Oh and also, we have three... we have... we need three lightbulbs. We have three lights who not work. The one, the one in the bedroom? And the one in the hallway. And the one, the one in the toilet, but there are two, but this one [motioning up] he works, but the other [motioning] he doesn't work. And also I need one these, I don't know how you say [pulls shelf peg out of pocket]. It's for the shelf of my desk, I have three, but I need one more, for the shelf. The shelf of my desk."

It's worth mentioning, at this point, that he is also not a native speaker of French. Anyway, he decided it would be easier for me to show him than for us to actually communicate, so he said he would come up in ten minutes. And then never showed.

Encounters, two, three and four were all similar. I would run into him by random chance, and we would have this exchange:
Him: "Oh! I have a package for you."
Me: "Oh, okay. Don't you leave a note in my mailbox when there is a package?"
Him: "Yes, but I couldn't." [Note: our mailboxes have large slots in the top, such that anyone can easily leave a note at any time.]
Me: "Oh. Why not?"
Him: "[Something I didn't understand.]"
Me: "..."
Him: "..."

So as a side note, if you are planning to send me a package, it is probably best to let me know so that I can arrange to accidentally run into him and be told about it.

Encounter five was in the elevator. Three Germans got on a couple floors below me, and the concierge got on a few floors below that. When they saw him, one of them said [in French] "Oh! We've been looking for you." He said "Okay. I have to go to the basement, but I'll be right back. I'll be back in two minutes, two minutes" and got off on a different floor. Immediately after the doors closed, one of the Germans said [in German] "Uh huh. Sure. Suuure you'll be here in two minutes. I just bet you will." So at least now I know it's not just me, hehe.

Anyway, today I finally got around to writing down all of the things that I told him were broken in October and handed him the list. He looked very surprised and acted as if he had never heard any of this before, and promised to fix things "soon." So, we'll see.

I have a huge note file I've been keeping of things to post about, and now that all these errands are out of the way, maybe that will actually happen more. I'm curious to know whether anyone is still reading after all the radio silence, so drop me a comment if you are! And now, I am very late to dinner at Hannah's, so I'm off. (Hi, Hannah! See you in five minutes.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

En route to Berlin!

Well hello there, Lyon-Saint-Exupéry. We meet again. I have to say I'm impressed with the ease of navigating you so far - check-in was painless, security was shockingly quick, your staff is friendly and polite, and you even seem to have saved this terminal's only electrical outlet just for me.

Just in case you were getting ideas, though, I want to point out that no amount of good treatment on the ground will make up for a repeat of 2007's airplane-with-a-shattered-windshield experience.

Do I make myself clear?