Home for the holidays

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gui and I have been non-stop since we landed two hours late at the Dallas airport last Tuesday. My anxious spirit was settled after having a good laugh with the customs officer who commended my good citizenship for having already read my passport and signed it as I was obligated to. A happy experience with customs? I'm definitely back in America!

So, we all but ran for the exit of the airport to the comfort of a 8-seater SUV, and headed out for our first meal: Taco Cabana

It was delicious! We picked up a few last minute gifts at Target, and headed back to my mom's place where we spent the night before heading out before dawn to be with my sister, brother-in-law and nephews for Christmas. But, before hitting the road, we stopped in for a diner breakfast that served us up some egg and sausage biscuits, waffles, grits and bottomless coffee.

We spent the next 8 hours driving north towards the freezing temps. Besides witnessing a truck drift off onto the icy shoulder, spin around a couple of times, and come to a dead halt in the middle of the highway before speeding off back down the road, the ride was pretty smooth and calm. We lucked out with the clear skies and got to my sister's place by lunchtime. But, I still had a lot of shopping to get done, so off to the malls I went. Man, do I miss malls!! I just about had a heart attack running into Banana Republic, J. Crew and Macy's, clean, perfectly in order, with smiling sales staff welcoming me into their sales-laden shops. I didn't have much time to shop for myself, but I still managed to pick up a few things that I just couldn't pass up.

I came back in time for Christmas Eve dinner. In our family, my mom usually sets up a spread of hors d'oeuvres for Christmas Eve - veggie tray, chips and queso, buffalo wings, crackers and cheese, pigs in a blanket, pies, cakes,... But, this year, my sister and brother-in-law decided to tackle the Christmas and pre-Christmas foodfest, and we ended up chowing down on some tasty grub that had everyone hoping for a repeat next year.

Christmas Day was merry and bright, just as it should be. We spent the entire day indoors, opening gifts, playing with new toys and enjoying the comforts of being safe at home with family. Even if it meant breaking the long time go-see-a-movie-on-Christmas tradition, it was worth spending the extra time interacting with the people I love but don't see often throughout the year.

Gui had the task of putting together the gift we "imported" from France, which he fervently took on as his project for the day. I spent my time playing some of my favorite board games (Mousetrap and Candyland) and sifting through the after-Christmas online sales at J. Crew.

Since Christmas, we've been doing what we do best - eating and shopping. I've become a frequent shopper again at Target, and my mom has morphed into my own personal chef, taking requests from me and my tastebuds. It's easy to get used to being back here - my family's so close, things are so familiar, but I've definitely had a fair share of reverse culture shock. Most notably different is the behavior of others. There's a culture of friendliness that it seems I've left behind. I've stopped remembering to apologize if I accidentally brush against someone, and it was shocking at first to hear people say "I'm sorry" or "excuse me" when they walk in front of me as I'm browsing the aisles. The accents are different too, and my drawl is back. I haven't walked further than from the parking lot to the front door since I've arrived, and I'm not complaining much about that, as cold and snowy as it's been here. Gui and I are off to Austin in a couple of days, and I can't wait to see all of my friends back home. One of my best friends in the world just had a baby boy, and I'm dying to meet him. I can already foresee the difficulties I'm going to have with returning to Paris and leaving it all behind again, so I'm just hoping I get an overdose of love while I'm here to hold me off until our next visit.

Small triumphs

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I've somehow never had to use the French word for efficient since living in Paris. But, yesterday I found myself searching through my pocket dictionary to figure out how to describe the unprecedented situation at, of all places, the préfecture. That's right, folks! I wanted to describe my visit to the préfecture as efficace! Of course, I arrived prepared - hot panini in hand, interesting book to read and my current knitting work-in-progress were all sorted in my bag in preparation for the long and nail-biting experience that never materialized. I finished my sandwich, knitted a couple of rows, and not even 20 minutes into my wait-time some brilliant woman decided to prepare the carte de sejours in advance for people who were there to pick theirs up - people like me! Only minutes later, I was walking away with a smile planted on my face and my freshly-minted card in hand. We won't talk about the fact that I'll have to start the renewal process in merely three months, or that I look like I'm holding back a toothy grin in my photo, because I just really want to savor this happy, hassle-free (and likely, once in a lifetime) moment as long as possible.

Things are also coming along swimmingly with the Christmas shopping. I never knew I could get so much done with my day until I tried to get so much done. Besides Gui's sister, we're done with his family, and apart from a few little things I plan on taking back for peeps, all the things that require treks across town or special ordering been taken care of. I plan on getting most of the stuff I'm missing from a last-minute trek to the mall and Target in Dallas or Kansas, which I'm sure is going to be a mad rush! I'm keeping a pretty thorough and strict list, though, so let's hope I don't get too sidetracked by all the glitz and glamour of holiday shopping at American stores while I'm there!

I'm also happy to report that my first knitting project is more than halfway done. It would be two-thirds done if I decided to stick with the three skeins of yarn I'd initially planned for it, but I've decided to add one more skein (if it's available) since it's not going to be as long as I'd thought it'd be. So far, I'm really pleased with how it's turned out, but being my first project and all, it's not without its flaws.

I still need to learn how to weave in my ends and cast off, but that'll happen soon enough, I think. Right now, I'm kind of obsessed with the knitting (etc.) website, Ravely and can't keep myself from dreaming about what projects I want to tackle next. I'm still so impressed by the beautiful work people are able to create with their hands and some imagination. I'd love to move on to a pair of simple socks or baby leggings next, but I'm not sure if I should be less ambitious for my second project. I'm thinking I'll be able to draw some inspiration and advice from the talented group that's meeting tonight at Aimee's, so we shall see soon enough.

I know it's my pessimistic way of reasoning, but I'm really hoping that things aren't going so well and so quickly because something's bound to go wrong next week. It would be nice if all of these little triumphs would lead to a culmination of smooth travels for us on Tuesday, but as that's kind of out of my hands, I won't worry too much about it now.

I'm here

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I haven't been much of a blogger these days, have I? Well, there's no real explanation except for maybe that I'm spending my blog time doing other things or that I haven't been all that inspired to write lately. Maybe it's winter in Paris. I just don't really like the cold. Or the gloom. And, there's been a lot of both around here lately. Talking to a girl in my phonetics class the other day, we decided that the reason why we feel like Paris is Russia right now is because we don't have a car in a relatively warm garage to walk to in the mornings. We have a metro station a 5-10 minute walk away from home as our destination at 7:45 AM, when it's recently been at or below freezing. It just ain't fun.

I'm still taking my classes at La Sorbonne, which are coming to an end rather soon now. We have two weeks off for the holidays and then only one week of class in January before our big exams start around the 15th. Scary! Progress is slowly being made, I think, but I still have those days when my voice and tongue completely fail to work in any language. I am, however, finding that practice does make perfect, and the more I try to speak, the more I progress. Novel concept, I know. I had to go to our wedding photographer's shop today and as confident as I was about speaking to her before I got there, I felt like I stumbled over every other word once I was faced with actually speaking. Thankfully, she's incredibly sweet and patient (and hardworking, too - I heard her tell someone she'd be there on Saturday despite having family in town), so she indulged my choppy sentence structure with a smile and never once patronized me with corrections or funny looks. She also remembered my name right away, and reminded me how much she "adored" our wedding portraits. I remember when she was showing us the pictures for the first time, she kept remarking at how much the camera and light loved us. Flattery makes for good customers, I suppose, but she always seems sincere.

Besides my unceasing French lessons, we've been having quite the busy social lives of late. It seems that every weekend we've got things planned and even during the week, I find it necessary to check my calendar to be sure we're not "double booking" things. It's kind of strange. I think it's the upcoming holidays that have us so busy; since Thanksgiving and up until we head to the States for the holidays, it's a whirlwind of cocktails, friends, dinners and fêtes. Last weekend was completely filled with enjoying American food and drinks with new friends. We were celebrating the 200th episode of the Katia & Kyliemac podcast, which is frankly, quite a genius broadcast that these two creative geniuses host twice a week. (By the way, if you haven't checked it out and you're interested in expat life in France, you should give it a download.) They've got an amazing following of listeners who turned out from near and far to check out a live broadcasting of the historic episode, and we got to meet some really fantastic people and indulge in some really delicious fare in the process. Lucky us.

I've also (since last week) picked up a new hobby, which has been keeping me busy and often confused. It's knitting. My friend, Aimee has a beautiful tea salon in the 13th arrondissement of Paris where she hosts a weekly knitting group. She's a knitter (an amazing one, actually), and she offered to teach me and another friend to knit during the meet-up last week, and she did just that! I remember knitting and crocheting when I was younger - my grandma was always an inspiration for my creative side and she showed me once how to do it, but I didn't keep up with it as a hobby. Over the past couple of years, I've wanted to get more seriously into knitting - I've bought needles, yarn and a couple of books, and all I was lacking was a knowledgeable and patient teacher. Well, thank goodness that's exactly who Aimee is, and in between serving tea and soup, she gave me the introductory skill-set I needed to get started on my first project - a scarf. Since then I've been working almost daily on the piece, but every few rows I run into some kind of stitch-glitch and have to "frog," as they say, most of the work I've already completed. Still, it's been a rewarding and really fun hobby so far, and there's still so much I have to learn.

These next couple of weeks (THIRTEEN days!) are going to be pretty busy while we prepare for our trip to the US (and Gui's first American Christmas), but I plan on finding some time to blog. Christmas shopping is underway, and braving the cold is getting tougher and tougher for me. I just can't do it. All I can think of as I walk from my class to the metro is "home, heater, coffee; home, heater, coffee." We're trying to do some of our shopping online this year, though. Since we'll be arriving in Texas so late on the 23rd, we have to get most, if not all, of our gifts in Paris, which I'm not so happy about; besides having to brave frigid Paris temps, that also means that we'll be buying in euros and not dollars. I'm just hoping that the malls and Target will be open on Christmas Eve long enough for us to pick up any last-minute goodies. I seriously cannot wait!

Diagnosed by the man at the bar

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rhum-rhum nights, aka Friday-night drinks, has become quite the regularly-scheduled event for Gui and I. We meet up with friends at Le Caveau des Oubliettes, aka The Guillotine, in the 5th arrondissement to fill-up on their Friday night specialty, the rhum-rhum (made famous by the ultra-famous duo, Katia & Kyliemac) and engage in interesting banter with other angolophones. It's something I think most everyone looks forward to from the start of Monday.

Last night was unlike any other rhum-rhum night. There were more people in town, and apparently a nerd-fest was going on that we weren't aware of and they decided to throw their after-party at the same time and place as our weekly rendezvous, but we still managed to grab tables and seats for everyone. As we were gathered around, discussing beer, travel plans and telling random stories, someone came from behind me and tapped my shoulder. I swung around my stool to see the grey-haired, coat-wearing, old man that's often lingering about the bar leering at our large and strange group.

He asked me if I spoke French, to which I replied, "un peu." He asked if someone could translate for me, and Katia's ever-so-kind husband was (thankfully) sitting just next and offered to translate. I could make out most of what he was saying until he said the word thyroïde. It doesn't sound much like the English version, and not expecting this guy to be having a health-related discussion with me, I could not for the life of me figure out what he was telling me. Katia's husband (we'll call him MM for short) didn't immediately know the word in English either, so we asked around the table until someone threw out the word "thyroid."

"He's saying that it looks like you have a problem with your thyroid," said MM.

Uh, ok. I didn't know whether to be offended, thankful, skeptical or creeped out. So, I asked him why he was telling me this.

"Mais, pourquoi est-ce que vous dites ça?"

"Est-ce que vous avez souvent très froide ou très chaude?"

I tried to figure out how to answer this. Sure, I was often cold when it was cold and hot when it was hot, but isn't that normal? I'm rarely ever very hot when no one else is. In fact, I'm almost always cold. But, being a pretty small person, anemia is something that my doctors regularly checked me for, and that always explained my cold tendencies. So, I told him that wasn't particularly true.

"Mais, en fait non."

I was still perplexed, though. And starting to get angry. "The audacity!" I thought. "Uh, typical old French, wanting to tell you something about yourself that they somehow know better than you."

"Quelles sont les caractéristiques de cette condition," I demanded.

He started telling me that he could tell from the shape of my face, from the features of my face, from my voice and the way that my throat was shaped that I had something wrong with my thyroid. He suggested that I look into seeing a specialist about it. Then, he stepped back, put his hands up and bowed, as if to say "that's all I can tell you." And, then, I'm pretty sure he apologized for giving me this horrific news. I told him thanks, that it was nice of him to be concerned and he left the table.

The creepiest part of this whole incident is that my family does have a history of thyroid problems. But, how in the world could he have known? Part of me thinks this guy is a weirdo who hangs around bars diagnosing people because maybe he misses his former life as a doctor...or something. And, part of me thinks that he really and truly somehow knew something about my health from just looking at me. But how? Is that even possible? Either way, I'm making an appointment to see my doctor after we get back from Christmas vacation because as creepy as that incident was, I like the idea of being safe rather than sorry.
TEXAS SARAH. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.