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Monthly Archives: December 2010

Nightmare is the operative word here, I guess, in that all hope seems lost while you’re in the thick of things. When you finally manage to wake up, you’re a little unsettled, sure, but what felt so real seconds before is now only a fading  memory, a conversation topic when you’ve run out of pertinent things to discuss.

Over the past week, I’ve had my share of travel mishaps, and in turn, small miracles that keep me believing in myself, in other people, in the idea that things are working out exactly as they should.

Last Sunday, all my friends had left for vacation already and I had taken the train to Paris for the day to go to the Louvre (free with my proof of EU residence!!) and check out the window displays at the big department stores. I met one of my teachers at the station — the one whose class gave me the hedgehog, how ’bout that — and we sat next to each other and talked about snow and homes and the future. She assured me the trains would still be running for my return trip back to Evreux. Not really — when I made it back to gare St. Lazare, wet-footed and back aching, I discovered (natch) that all the trains headed to Evreux were doomed with a retard indeterminé or canceled altogether.

After taking a defeated spin in the neighboring arrondisements, hoping that the train conditions would improve once I got back, I found that I was still shit out of luck. I weighed my options: booking an expensive place in Paris, hanging in the unheated train station until the trains started running again, or going halfway to a town with train service and hoping someone with a car could pick me up. I texted an English teacher to ask if there was any possible way she could drive and find me along the way, adding in mille mercis and feeling bad to even suggest the favor. She responded saying that she couldn’t pick me up — because she, too, was stuck! in Paris! Technically bad news, but for me, excellent news — she would find me in St. Lazare and we would figure out what to do together.

She arrived in the crowd with her boyfriend and mother-in-law in tow, having just come from a (somewhat boring, according to her) wedding. Without much time for debate, they bought tickets, grabbed me — and I was headed on a train to a strange woman’s house with my English teacher, whom I had mostly only just exchanged pleasantries with before. Talk about being outside your comfort zone. But her and her relative could not have been more welcoming — they were very nice, taking the time to explain untranslatable French expressions and always offering more food, asking more questions.  We stayed at her boyfriend’s aunt’s house in a beautiful, sleepy village outside of Paris with a view of the Seine. She had a cat named Minou with a cone on its head and served vegetable soup and pasta with salmon for dinner.  As stressed as I was about not being safe in my own bed, these people, and this great place I wouldn’t have found if it weren’t for the fact that I had actually left the relative safety of Evreux that day, definitely made up for it.

But broken-down train stories and stressful travel experiences don’t stop here! Stay tuned for more.

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Hey. You. Guys. I was feeling really shitty this morning, wishing I could just have booked my ticket home sooner and only had to think about what to watch next on On Demand and what cream cheese to put on my bagel, etc (Its a very healthy lifestyle that I lead chez Capewell). I was worried, as always, about choices I had made, worried I will never please everyone, worried I don’t give enough, worried people didn’t miss me — in general, thoughts that seem undeniable when I’m thinking them and silly in retrospect. This is a dangerous path of thinking (especially when you’re drunk. Especially when a hammock is in your way. Not that I speak from experience) and I was tempted to pull covers over myself until my flight was being called at Charles de Gaulle.

So: feeling sorry for myself. Missing home. Luckily I got my ass off the computer and into the gray great Normandy outdoors. And I taught another lesson about Christmas words, singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas for maybe the thousandth time this week — no exaggeration — and doing a little crossword with my CE2 (3rd grade) bids. At the end, the teacher had them sing a song in French that they would be performing tomorrow during Chorus: “L’Hiver est tout blanc” (Winter is all white). Which was so sweet, and cute, and I loved it. At the end, they presented me with the gift you see above — a homemade hedgehog card holder (!!!!!), which is the most amazing thing I’ve ever gotten, ever.

So you people out there with fulfilling relationships, PhDs, suites at the Plaza — whatever, dudes. I can keep my ticket stubs in an animal made out of an old French book. Top that. And happy holidays.

I guess I wasn’t there the day one of the English teachers I work with introduced clothing vocabulary, because one morning I walked into class and the kids were repeating: “a pink dress,” “a brown hat,” “a green sweet-sweet.” Sweet-sweet? “Sweat suit,” I responded helpfully, only to get blank stares in return. The damage was done. “Sweet-sweet. Okay.” You have to pick your battles as an English teacher — is it easier to get them to pronounce the “f” in “Father Christmas” or the “h” in “horse?” It’s hard enough for them to remember that both student and pupil both mean élève, so, figuring they already had this incorrect pronunciation in their head, I let this one slide. I secretly hope that one day, 20-something French men and women will journey to England or the USA, ask politely for an outfit to jog in, and get sent to the candy store.

…It’s delicious. I can’t help it. Despite every voice in my head that screams, “Stop!!! What are you doing?! You don’t even eat Big Macs at home! Give your money to a boulanger and not a corporation! Go get a Camembert sandwich, or something!” I can’t help but be tempted by les golden arches every time I pass by. Which is often, because it’s about a two-minute walk from my door. The maintenance man even pointed it out when I moved in. French McDonalds also has several advantages over its American counterpart, namely:

  • Deluxe Potatoes. You can get them instead of regular French Fries and they are basically just seasoned potato wedges — probably the closest thing I’ll get to home fries.
  • Croque McDo. Don’t you remember giggling when you found out that a grilled cheese was a Croque Monsieur in seventh-grade French class? And then starting a lengthy obsession about this fun country where you could almost speak the language and go around calling your sandwiches Mister? Yeah, me too! The Croque McDo is McDonald’s answer to that culinary masterpiece, a.k.a. What I Buy When I Need to Feel French. I know, it’s not much. Hey, I never said I was perfect. The Croque McDo, however, is.
  • Doing like the Locals Do. Anytime vaguely around lunch or dinner and the drive-thru (ahem, the McDrive) is five cars deep. Inside, the line is nearing the door. I saw a group of four teenagers walking through the snow the other day, each with a McFlurry in hand — now that’s dedication. People in Évreux can’t get enough McDo’s. This is either a sign of the apocalypse…or just testament to the deliciousness of McDonalds in France.

I do know, deep down, that maybe going to McDonald’s is like waving the white flag, even if just for a day: I surrender. I need something familiar. In his published travel journal, graphic novelist (cartoonist?) Craig Thompson said, “Easy to love a place the day you leave it,” which I feel is true of every weird nostalgic feeling I have for fast food and upstate New York rest stops and big, cheap coffees and commuting. The things I shouldn’t hold close but do, but why? Maybe I’m a New Yorker at heart, eschewing daylight and casual strolling for whatever it is we’re looking for, wearing Tough Things like a badge of courage. No good McFlurry goes unpunished, after all. I never let myself get off that easy.

There’s a lot I could write about right now, but I think I’m getting sick, which I didn’t think was possible in France, because the fact that I’m in France, living here, speaking the weird semi-French I can get by on, isn’t real, and only real people get sick. But now that I’ve given you the worst run-on sentence in the history of the world, let me tell you about a one-minute interaction that happened today.

A little boy (who I’m not even sure I teach, but whatever) ran up to me and showed me his missing tooth. I was excited that I realized I could understand what he was saying (kids usually mumble or whisper or put their hand over their mouth or cry so it’s impossible to know what’s going on sometimes, which is why I sometimes just smile and nod while they ask me if they can go to the bathroom again and again) — and I was even more excited to talk about a part of French culture which I think is awesome. Instead of getting a visit from a tooth fairy, them tiny ones with gaps in their smiles are visited by la petite souris, or a little mouse.

So when I asked the little boy about this rumored little mouse who buys teeth off sleeping children (which conjures up both adorable and unsanitary images in my mind) he was able to confirm it with a report that yes, indeed, he got some candy (I was so tempted to write sweeties — that Scottish Jill, influencing me all weekend long!) and a bit of money. First petit souris “sighting?” Check.