Dienstag, 31. März 2009

the other park in my hood

It is the anniversary of the Eiffel Tower which is a big deal for tourists. This is because the tower is a big deal for tourists. The festival, like the tower, seems to only elicit sighs and eye rolls from Parisian residents. Today there is a festival of comedy and that seems way more popular. And I don't know if this is normal, but there are a bunch of stores who have chocolates in the shape of sardines wrapped in silver foil for April fools day.
I've been to see the other park in my area. I've not done much of the big touristy things (Though I have plans to do those things with my classmates a couple afternoons a week.) but am really enjoying being in small out of the way streets seeing the day to day things, finding the areas I prefer and cataloging things to try and figure out what is typical/atypical or touristy.
"The other park" was lovely, huge, green, lush and fragrant. I anticipate being able to watch spring slowly develop in the park this month. It's called Butte something-something and all the things around it are called Butte, which I began pronouncing in my head as "Boo-tay!" This was very comical to me as there seemed to be a strange behavior which was popular in the parks surrounds. You see, the streets and street corners have these posts of varying heights all over, to block traffic. I imagine that this is to discourage any future Bourne movies with their European car chase scenes. Throughout the area around Butte, there was an odd number of young men perched on the bulb tops of these posts. I don't know if this is because it was the first time I've been in a neighborhood during school dismissal or if the young men of "Boot-ay" have particularly sensitive G-spots, but it just seemed strange to me.

As I said the park was lovely and children and old folks were sunning themselves. Balls were kicked and pigeons were fed. It was utopian for a moment until I wound down a particular path to find two boys chucking stones at pigeons heads. Not simply chucking, but searching out the bigger "better" stones and carefully aiming. Utopie gibt es nicht but I'm having a lovely time nonetheless. And I found a store that sells salt, so.....

good times.

It's day two of school and this means that it's day one of feeling routine.
Not so fast, though! Monday we began at 8:15 for testing, which means that my commute was decidedly different. As all commuters know, a Metro (or other public transport vehicle, or even street, for that matter) is FAR more full at 8:15 than at 7:30 a.m. Yesterday I had my pick of seats, today I made like a sardine and crammed into the Metro and pretended not to have a good time, like a good metro rider. Then, something else unique happened! A man in a pink pullover and charcoal grey trench coat (a real together-looking guy) entered the train balancing a droopy waffle on his fingertips. Huh! A droopy waffle. Contained in the waffles little pockets, which for me typically contain syrup or jam (not transport friendly), was refined sugar (lots of it. This was no dusting)
This is on par with the sale of cold pancakes at starbucks. Something familiar in an unfamiliar way. I like it.

Last night I went shopping for food stuffs for dinner. I've heard a million times from a million people that one should not shop hungry, but I've not typically had a problem with this. I bought proper amounts of what I needed and nary an impulse purchase entered my basket. I felt a bit proud about this as I shouldered my backpack and walked out on the street to be attacked(!) by the scent of sweet crepes at a stand right upwind from the supermarket door . Hungry food shopping I can do but being confronted with such splendid temptation while hungry? Luckily the weight on my back was a helpful reminder that dinner was set. I know that that crepe would result in having no interest in dinner and a grumpy woman in the morning. So I passed it by with the promise that there will be yummy crepes in my future. After all, there is a crepe stand round the corner from my school and another at my metro transfer point.
Tomorrow night I'm trying an internet meet-up and am feeling quite curious. So far I've been really lucky meeting pretty nice folks here. Even my neighbors seem nice. In fact, yesterday afternoon when I was stopping in to drop something in my room, I saw a woman from my language school in the building's office signing her lease. I'm hoping to ask her to dinner sometime as I'm not very good at cooking for one.
Now to video chat and then back to the city for a stroll and a fresh market search.
Abientost! (I don' have the circumflex)

Montag, 30. März 2009

After 48 hours

"Vite!" was just shouted by a small child in my hallway. I wonder if he is hungry and ready for dinner. I'm not sure, though as the hallway is also full of cooking smells. My tiny apartment smells of the cloves that I'm simmering on the stove. There is only one window and it's on the other side of the apartment and the stove has no vent, so I've bought cloves to eliminate the cooking smells that I produce. Tonight those smells were fried egg which I put on bread with a bit of cheese, some leeks and (of course) chives. My lonely planet told me that the french eat a large lunch and a small dinner so I had some vegetable lasagna at lunch.
Yesterday, en route to church I got lost twice. When I'd finally found me way, I was pleasantly surprised that my route went past the opera and the Obelisk. I then passed the house of assembly and went to the church which shares a wall with the ministry of defense. After church (which strangely began at 2:30 pm. The "young people" were retiring to a cafe and I came along. The group was of varying nationalities and we had a great time drinking the french equivalent of Glühwein. (Warm red wine with oranges and cinnamon.) Turns out that two of the 'young people' live near me and we made plans to meet up Easter. (The Parisian UUs meet for service only once a month.)
Today, I went to school for the first time. During the grading of our placement exams and the various oral exams the teacher who offers theater activities in the afternoon (for language acquisition) put us in groups and we did a sort of pub trivia. My teacher and her assistant are lovely and a bit overly-dramatic and very enthusiastic.
Today was proof that I do learn better in a group. Thanks to a rather meek and quiet student, I learned various ways to tell someone to speak louder. Thanks to a super talented woman, for whom french is her 6 language, I was super careful about my pronunciation, attempting to get more "lovely"s and "good jobs" (whatever works, right?). I'm especially happy that I finally learned how to say "have a good day" and "have a good night" etc. I'm becoming more polite everyday and that thrills me.
Evidence that I'm super chill despite being alone in a foreign city is the fact that I missed my metro stop this afternoon while talking to my classmate and simply looked for the next possible connection and continued chatting.
I did some exploring in a new direction in my neighborhood and found the Parc de Villette. It's going to be great for reading in the sunshine ala my Rittenhouse Square days in Philly. One half is taken up with theaters, musical venues and a ton of fun things for children. So there will be sunning and reading as french children scamper by. C'est Super!

Dienstag, 17. März 2009

Foreigner - Stranger

It is summer time. In a small community center decorated with paper hearts, a group of Americans and Swiss learn tradtitional folk dancing with the aid of champagne and a teacher with a lot of patience.
"Mmm, wie sagt Man 'jemand fremd'?" The dance instructor's english up to this point has been understandable and sweetly accented. Proud that she had turned to me to translate, I promptly answer: Foreigner or Stranger.
Were we doing this dance in america, the leader would probably call out "turn to you partner, turn to your own". At least, this is my understanging, based on Bugs Bunny cartoons. Our leader, possibly overwhelmed by the new additions to her vocabularly looks to her partner and says "foreigner" then to the person on her other side "stranger". The Americans who were already laughing in surprise at the two synonyms, chuckle all the more. The rest of the night, simply saying "foreigner - stranger - foreigner - stranger" would elicit giggles.

When I first moved to Switzerland and needed to organize my foreigner ID, I had the same reaction. I was to go to the neighborhood police and was confused by the use of the word "Fremd". Apparently I had only heard that word as "stranger" before and the ID of regitering myself as a "stranger" made me a bit sad. I thought back to the answer my half brother gave when I asked him what a "stranger" looks like. "He's a man with a black mask and has all black and wants to take you away."
Months later, the reaction of my american friends to "foreigner - stranger" made me laugh from my belly with relief. Their shock showed that they found it absurd that a foreigner would be a stranger. Of course our use of the word "alien" does not seem that much more friendly, but they had likely never been called an alien and here in Switzerland they were foreigners; strangers. Though I've been a stranger here for 3 years, I still feel a very deep relief when someone else is surprised by culture or language in the same way I was, at first. When a German or American in Switzerland first hears "Hana wasser" or "gksi". I laugh and nod my head. That's right. You weren't expecting that, were you? I feell a relief at the evidence that, though I do not understand everything, I know to order tap water and that I am a stranger.

Freitag, 6. März 2009

all that glitters

I've never thought of myself as superfical, at least not so much more than the average human animal. When I walk down the street, my mind always plays at the notions of what depths the surrounding strangers contain.

Last week, my neighbor asked what was wrong. I was simply walking home from the pharmacy. He knew that something was wrong because of the way I was walking. I hadn't even noticed a hitch in my step.

"Skiing accident?" he asked. I laughed so hard. "Something like that" I said. Here he was, trusting his eyes, judging by appearances and had NO idea that I was limping along with fistulas and draining abscesses.

Today, as I was walking down the street I couldn't play my usual game of creating lives for the fleeting faces in trams or the strolling strangers. No guesses at families, happiness, loves of hand-knit sweaters. All I could do was imagine callouses on a beautiful woman in expensive shoes. Diaper rash on an adorable baby. Hemorrhoids on the hairdresser in the salon.

No one knows my medical history when they see me walking down the street. I apparently resemble a skiier. (ha! I snowboard when not healing from surgery)

Yesterday I visited my old Kindergarten , I was teaching for a year and a half until December. I came for a visit and came bearing Easter chocolate and sang "little bunny foo foo". The whole time I was there, I had one or two children wrapped around one or both of my legs. I visited during circle time and said that I would love to hear any stories that they had for me, or answer any questions that they had for me.

Guess how many questions they asked? none. I heard about Christmas and Hanukkah, who lost a tooth, what they built, what number they can write.

When I was their teacher, these little guys who would remove my glasses the three times that I wore them when hungover, because they were unusual to them. The rugrats who would surreptitiously change stroke my hair so that it was parted on the "normal" side, should I ever dare to switch it, these gorgeous, healthy balls of energy looked at me and saw me. Not Chron's or sick or fistulas, just me.

Montag, 2. März 2009

time....is on my side

When I was younger I used to stay at over night in Ashland Massachusetts before hospital visits. It was closer to my Boston hospital and a good excuse to hang with my dad, step-mom and half-brother. One particular morning (there musn't have been surgery or scopes on the books), I was breakfasting with my half-brother and he asked "What is time?"
He was a little guy. He liked my shaved head and I sprayed his mom's hairspray under the bed (monster spray) when I would sit for him. I gave him a big stupid smile and his mother gasped.
"Oh my goodness! He wants to know what time is?"
It could have been my age, my recent babysitting or my perspective (I was watching his face as it swung toward the clock when he asked), but I was untroubled by the question.
"Well, time is what tells us what it's time to do. Time tells us when we go to playgroup, when we go to bed and when the train comes."
He was quickly and easily pacified and I felt like a good big sister.

Yesterday, Ivo and I were walking in the cemetery and stopped to admire one of the buildings. A woman who was passing commented on the fineness of the day and we agreed.
"If only the people with computers weren't messing with the time." , she added.
"Mmmmmm." we said.
Then we wished her a lovely day.
"What day is it?" she asked
"Sunday." we said.
"I'm sorry but it's not. I've just been to the shops and the shops aren't open on Sundays. So it isn't Sunday then, is it?"
I was at a loss. How does one prove time to someone? Especially someone who believes that people with computers are manipulating time? "Oh," I said "I just heard a lot of bells this morning. That made me think that it was Sunday. "
"Well, I've been to the shops. ....and you know the weird thing? I arrived home at the same time that I left. I left and went shopping and came home and it was the same time that it'd been when I'd gone."
"Go figure" is pretty much what Ivo and I were about to say. "Well, whichever day it is, I hope that it is a good one for you."

When I was preparing dinner, I began listening to the Radio lab podcast about Time. It was a freaky coincidence. I learned about how trains made a synchronised time in one place more necessary. I learned about England taking control of their empire and declaring their own time, Greenwich Mean Time, as the one true time. It was enlightening. When I'd left that woman I shuffled my feet and thought "It's all relative" but after hearing that podcast I thought on my baby brother and was reminded the importance of respecting people and listening better to the things that they say and the ways in which they intend it.