Thursday, June 30, 2005

Maylin and me

Maylin took a shower with me this morning. It's much faster than bathing her. It took about five minutes to soap her, rinse her, and wash her hair. Of course, she cried when the water started going down her face, but I hope she'll get used to it after more experiences at the public pool with Daddy.

We walked to daycare together, holding hands as usual. Maylin with her backpack...me with mine. At the school, we were greeted by her very nice teacher Pascale, who offered to take us to a children's theater production after school sometime soon. I said my goodbye and left the building, but peeked through the window to see Maylin quietly seated with the other kids doing puzzles. Too cute. Just makes my heart melt. I went to the post office nearby and on my way back home, passed the daycare again. I had to spy on her again, and saw that she was very quietly sitting next to her newest beau, Guillaume, waiting for snack time. Awww. Pascale is glad that Maylin is hanging around Guillaume more because he is older, more mature, and more intellectual than her other admirers. Plus, he speaks French to her which is great for her language skills.

Maylin has been peeing on her own in her potty at least once a day! I'm so proud of her! She even wipes herself! Sorry if this is too much information for anyone, but anyone with children will know that this is a very important time.

Time to check on my quiche -- smoked salmon and broccoli! My first time with broccoli. Hope it's good.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

We're sticky

It's been hot and humid for at least a week, and we've also had our share of thunderstorms and hail (I didn't know about the hail until the receptionist at my French language school said she got clobbered on the head by a piece). Can't forget about the mosquitoes, too. I don't mind the mosquitoes that much -- just the ones that buzz near my ear and those that bite poor Maylin. She's got them all over. Time to get some mosquito netting.

The heat makes riding the metro very uncomfortable. I have a high tolerance for discomfort and pain, so sometimes I don't really notice the sweat dripping off my brow and the heavy air -- not until I smell people's body odors. That's unpleasant. I think in Europe, in general, they don't seem to use deodorant as much as they do in the U.S. unfortunately.

Now, for a complete change of subject, we have evidence that Maylin knows how to speak French! For the first time in history, to our knowledge, our daughter has conversed in her newest language! We had a babysitter the night of my opera, and she excitedly reported that Maylin was pointing at particular objects in her storybooks and referring to them in French. Wow. That was a really big surprise considering this was a new sitter who also happens to speak English better than all our previous sitters.

I've been up since 6 am. I feel like either going back to sleep or feeding my growling stomach. I think I'll choose the latter. Ciao.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Too excited to sleep

It's 2:35 am and I'm way too worked up to fall asleep. I had my opera performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute this past evening and it went great! The comments that I heard afterward were very flattering -- "you have the most beautiful voice," "you had the best voice," "you were very expressive," "you had the best stage presence" -- no wonder I can't sleep!

I was in pretty good voice going into the performance and my voice sounded better and better as the concert progressed. The first piece for me was the most difficult vocally, with its higher range and with my excitement of performing in front of an audience (a third of whom were my friends). There was a lot of acting to be done in that piece, too, so I had to be able to juggle vocal technique and many different emotions (infatuation, selfishness, frustration, resignation) at the same time. I think I did a pretty good job considering my past opera performances in the States where I often sacrificed my vocal technique for the acting.

The rest of the opera was pretty easy for me after that. I focused on my text (remembering words and conveying them the best I could through gestures and facial expressions) for the other two trios, and for my duet with Papageno (I was his recently discovered mate, Papagena) I just let myself have fun flirting with Papageno and singing about having kids together, many of them. I improvised a bit of the choreography towards the end, but I think it worked. Papageno surprised me with an unchoreographed hug at the end of the duet, too. And my crown of flowers fell off my head on cue just as the music came to its conclusion. That duet turned out to be a nice finale for our version of the Magic Flute.

We performed in a small theater outfitted with cushy red theater seats, black walls, ceiling, and floor, and real stage lights. Those stage lights are a great thing for performers because we're so blinded by the lights that we can't see the faces of our audience. The previous night, we had had another performance (with another cast -- not as experienced) in the crypt of a church. No stage lights. Just house lights. So I could see everyone's face and expression. I was so disappointed. I was acting my butt off but the audience remained motionless and emotionless. During the intermission, I conferred with one of my French friends and she said that that was typical of French audiences. I was much more used to the American audience where you at least have a handful of supportive, smiling faces to sing to. American audiences look like they like being there. This French audience looked like they were watching water drip out of a faucet. Despite that, I still received plenty of flattering comments from perfect strangers.

Now that I'm addicted again to performing opera, I vow to perform in at least one opera per year. I might have to form my own opera company if necessary. Wish me luck!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The inevitable towing of our illegally parked vehicle

Well, it finally happened. I woke up to the sound of what I thought was a cherry-picker moving some heavy furniture out of our neighbor's apartment. I thought I'd take a look to see how it was progressing, and I discovered that it wasn't a cherry-picker after all, but a tow truck -- towing our car!!! I yelled to my sleeping John, but it was too late. Our Renault mini-van was already on the truck and ready to roll. I'd say that all took about 7 minutes, finishing at 9:15 am. They're working pretty early on Saturday mornings. Yesterday, John had brought the car home from the company garage and parked it illegally in front of our building, assuming it would be safe on the weekend. I thought it was pretty safe myself. Now we know we are really never safe and are just playing odds.

With the help of one of my Paris survival guides, the internet, and my improved French, I was able to figure out how to retrieve our car. I called the one police station open 24/7 in our arrondissement and they gave me the number for the car towing department (fourriere). I called the number, gave our license plate number, and was given the address for the tow yard. John may need to pay a fine of 126 euros to cover the cost of the towing. You're also supposed to furnish your driver's license (hope we won't get in trouble for an American license) and a "carte grise" or "gray card." I don't know exactly what that is, but we never got it. The tow people said that wouldn't be a problem. In France, there are always "rules," but it seems the rules can always be broken.

I am waiting for John to come back, and will let you know the results!

At around 11:20 am...

John returns triumphantly with the car! Yippee! And guess where he parks? In another illegal spot! Haha! He and Maylin will be leaving shortly to go to a picnic near Fontainebleu. Unfortunately, I have to miss it because I have an opera performance this afternoon. I hope they make it there okay. I'm usually the main navigator, but it often takes two of our brains to get anywhere successfully in France.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A new way to fall asleep

The heat made me very tired yesterday. In the evening, I was lying on the couch and Maylin was sitting on her potty in front of me as we played with her dinosaurs and dolls on the couch. (We're hoping that more time on the potty will increase her chances of producing something on it.) I eventually fell asleep, and when I woke up, I found that Maylin had fallen asleep, too, with her upper body slumped over the coach, and her lower body, well, still on the potty.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Environmentally-Conscious French

As we were melting in her small, top-floor apartment and as my vocal cords continued to dry and swell in the heat (this made for a perfectly awful lesson), my voice teacher explained the reasoning behind the lack of air conditioning. Most people here choose not to outfit their apartments with A/C because of its additive effect to global warming. She reminded me of the vicious cycle that many Americans are living in. It's hot, so they turn on the A/C. The A/C makes the planet warmer which requires people to increase their usage of A/C.

So you won't find A/C here (except in the department stores and a few restaurants and hair salons), and you won't find garbage disposal units under the kitchen sink either. The French don't feel they're necessary, that they would make the water management system a much more energy-intensive process (can you imagine getting out tons of your chopped up food from the water that's going to be cleaned up for other usage?). I guess the food scraps that we toss out are decomposing out in the sun somewhere.

It wasn't difficult for me to adjust to no A/C and no garbage disposal because we had neither in our Berkeley house. We were living in a very European house, and we didn't even know it. Or maybe in the eyes of many Americans, our house was in the Stone Age.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Just read!

I've heard that some people, including my dad, have stopped reading my blog altogether because they feel they can't catch up, that it's just too much to read. Don't bother about catching up. Just read the latest entry, and you'll get the latest scoop on us. You can read the rest when it gets published in book form. :)

Our baker saves the day

Having your car towed on our street is a common occurrence. I might have mentioned this already, but our one-way street is very narrow with legal parking on the left side only. The right side is officially off-limits for stopping, loading/unloading, and parking. It does make it difficult for larger vehicles to pass through when someone's car is parked on the right side. Last week, John thought he was safe leaving the car on the illegal side of the street after 4 pm because they stop ticketing at 5 pm. As I am the cautious sort, I wouldn't have done that, but John is the risk-taker in the family. It turns out that between 4:30 and 5 pm, the city tow truck made its rounds and was about to tow our car! But the baker, who saw our car out front, somehow convinced the parking enforcement people that it was his car and that he was unloading some stuff. He saved our ticket from being towed, and we got off with just a 35 euro parking ticket. Phew.

Parking is so difficult in Paris most of the time that illegal parking moves are just necessary. After Friday, 5 pm, everyone starts breaking the rules. People park on the corner curb at the crosswalk, people park on the sidewalk (the few SUVs in the city can manage to climb up the double curb to park their entire car on the sidewalk alongside the Pereire park), and some people park in the middle of the street in a line (not possible on all streets, but on bigger ones like Avenue Ternes). Yes, actual streets become parking lots. Motorcycles skip all the parking regulations by regularly parking on whichever sidewalk they wish with no problems. Pedestrians need to watch out for motorcycles in the process of parking.

Even on holidays, you are not safe! After 8 pm, New Year's Day, we came back from a weekend trip to find that our entire street (at least 2-3 blocks) had just been towed! Phew! The only good thing that came out of that was the fact that we had plenty of parking to choose from afterwards that evening.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

She's doing it!

Yesterday was a milestone in Maylin's life! She used the potty properly for the first time! It helps that it's been very warm here. Mayln's been running around without pants and a diaper on, and spent a lot of time sitting on the potty yesterday with her dad's gentle encouragement. The potty is in the living room so she can feel like she's in the middle of things and not feel lonely by herself in the bathroom.

My voice is still sounding great after that awesome lesson last week. I have to be careful not to let any tension creep into my throat. I felt it sneaking in yesterday. It is very difficult to get rid of bad habits. We had an extra opera rehearsal on Saturday and I was in good voice. I met another soprano who I'll be performing with on Sunday. She's my height, maybe in her forties, has a great voice, and studied at Julliard. She was impressed by my voice and asked where I studied. Of course, she was probably expecting a conservatory name, but no, I did most of my vocal study at Cal State Hayward, now Cal State East Bay.

With my new voice, I feel like a have a better chance of making it in opera. I hope when I return to the States, I can at least join the smaller opera companies in the Bay Area. I still have work to do on my breathing, though. A couple more years should get it grounded.

So, since it's been hot here, everyone has their windows open (air-conditioning is a rare thing in these old buildings). I know there are some opera haters out there, so it was no surprise when my neighbor upstairs started playing his jazz recordings full-blast during my practice session -- to drown me out. What's wrong with Donizetti's Don Pasquale? I started singing half-voice (softer) because I wasn't going to join in a screamfest. No problem -- it was time to start focus on learning the text anyways.

I apologize to my neighbors now for anything that I create that they may consider noise pollution, but this is my work now! I promise only to sing at reasonable hours.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Weird sightings today

I was in the neighborhood with Maylin and a friend, walking to lunch, when we encountered the strangest and scariest thing. A small child crying desperately, all alone. She wasn't exactly alone, though. This three or four year-old was pushing her two year-old brother in a stroller. So, there were these two unaccompanied children looking very distraught and moving rapidly forward. Before we knew it, they were crossing the street! Fortunately, they made it safely. They turned the corner and were out of sight. We decided to follow them to see if they'd be okay. We turned the corner and they were already 25 feet ahead with their mother. Some mother. Letting them cross the street by themselves, completely out of her sight! Unbelievable.

After a nice lunch at my favorite neighborhood Asian restaurant (great Vietnamese egg rolls -- you roll up these crispy critters with a fresh mint leaf in a piece of lettuce and dip it in the sweet, vinegary sauce, mmm), I took Maylin to one of the playgrounds on Boulevard Pereire. No sandbox, but there was a new play structure that had an inclined wall for wall-climbing, a "rickety" bridge, a slide, and a periscope. Maylin had so much fun. I put her Winnie-the-Pooh ball next to my backpack on the bench while we played together. When I decided to sit down and let Maylin play on her own, I discovered that the ball had disappeared! I was chatting with the other two little girls in the park earlier, and since there was only one other kid around, they were high on my suspect list. I wasn't too concerned about the retrieval. I figured the ball would turn up by the time we had to go. But the girls were about to leave! Time to interrogate. "Ou est mon ballon?" One of the girls pointed into the prickly bushes at the edge of the park. Great. And guess what, when I came out of the bushes with the ball, another mom, agitated, also emerged from the bushes with her son's stolen ball. I hate to say it, but you do have to keep an eye on your toys in the parks in Paris. They seem to become communal toys once they cross the threshold of a Parisian public playground. One of my friends had one of her son's toys stolen. She saw it leave the park in the hands of another boy. Why aren't nannies and parents taking some responsibility? If Maylin had someone else's toy, I definitely wouldn't let her take it out of the area. I don't mind if other kids play with Maylin's toys, as long as they bring them back. I do have to hide Maylin's precious toys, though -- the ones very dear to her, like her lavender dou-dou (see early blog posting) or one of her "Little Brown Bear" figures.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

In sync

I had the most wonderful voice lesson ever! I thought I was in bad voice since I had some phlegm from being sick, but after vocalizing for at least 45 minutes, my voice had warmed up very well and I sounded and felt great! In this warm-up period, my teacher readjusted my posture so that my shoulders were relaxed and in a normal position (my shoulders would pull forward as I inhaled because for some strange reason I thought this would allow more room for pulmonary expansion in the back) and my ribs remained in an open position. She reminded me to keep thinking of expansion out of my sides throughout a phrase instead of letting my ribs collapse. It's a very full feeling. I felt twice as big as normal! When she had me sightread some Donizetti, it was easy and felt good!

Also, during the three-pitch vocalise of do-mi-so-mi-do, she reminded me to keep an open throat and not to do any adjustment as we went higher in my range, just to place all the pitches where I had placed my "do" (pronounced "doh" for those of you who haven't seen "The Sound of Music" or who haven't studied solfege). So instead of directing my high notes high and back in my head (that's how I'd visualize it) which can sound nice but often sounds "heady," I had to think forward into the same space as the lower beginning pitch, do. And magic happened. The sound I produced was beautifully even and not labored -- I didn't feel anything in my throat, but it took a lot of concentration. Singing is all mind-power. It's not like learning any instrument which you can touch with your hands. Singers cannot see their instrument, which includes the diaphragm, the lungs, the larynx, and the resonators (spaces in your throat, mouth, and head that can resonate), so we rely on sensation and imagination. Pure will-power. It's quite an amazing activity.

I was a bit disbelieving at first when my teacher said that for my high notes to be in the right place, I just need to keep my ribs open (think of continual sideways expansion throughout the phrase), my abdomen relaxed and soft during inhalation, my throat relaxed and open, the vowels pure up to a high A, the phrase going forward instead of up and down, and to start the sound as if speaking. I couldn't believe it, but it did work. I am completely sold on her technique. Lots of teachers will require you to adjust for different notes, but my teacher keeps it actually relatively basic. Immediately, I felt that we had created a special bond. I'm putting all my trust into this person. She's doing everything she can to help me and support me. And even though I don't understand every single word she says, we are in nearly perfect synchronization. And even though my French isn't that good, she understands what I'm trying to say, too. What a marvelous thing.

I was walking on a cloud after that lesson.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Book recommendations to my creative friends

Are you having trouble writing that story? Can't seem to finish that painting? Don't seem to find time to compose music anymore? Read "If You Want to Write" by Brenda Ueland. It is inspiring, but also makes a lot of sense. For all creators, not just writers. I check in with it regularly for inspiration and support. "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron takes it a step further with actual exercises and questions to ask yourself. Ueland's voice is very nurturing and selfless. I feel at home with her. Cameron's very practical, but seems less selfless. You may still find the book useful, though.

Now go be lazy for awhile, live in the present, let the creative juices flow, and then be inspired to create something true to yourself that makes you happy.

Let the chickens run free

There are a few things in the supermarket that really impress me. First, there's the milk that doesn't require refrigeration, until you open it at home. We don't drink much milk at home, but it must be really great for lots of people who will admire the milk's ability to keep for 3 months before opening. After opening, it supposedly lasts only a few days, but I think it can go much longer. The regular fresh milk can be found in the refrigerated section of the store.

Then, there's the chickens. There is an abundance of "poulet fermier," which are the farm-raised chickens. You'll find more of these stocked than the regular cooped-up chickens. They do taste different because of all the exercise, but I haven't decided if they actually taste better. I do have peace of mind knowing that the chicken I'm eating was probably happy and not eating its friends unknowingly or droppings of its friends. For reading on what's really happening in the meat and poultry industry, read Fast Food Nation by Eric Shlosser.

Finally, much of the produce and meat grown in France is free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). The American government doesn't see any dangers in eating food with GMOs, but many in Europe beg to differ because even though there haven't been any demonstrated dangers in eating GMO-food, it doesn't mean the dangers don't exist. For more info on GMOs and what's being done about them in Europe, check out the following websites.

European point of view
http://www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/gmofree/countries/france.htm

American point of view and general info
http://web.aces.uiuc.edu/faq/faq.pdl?project_id=28

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Power of Dijon

John and I have been eating pretty light lately -- lots of fish and turkey breasts, and, of course, lots of vegetables and less bread. But now my system is craving something less healthy. So, I'm going to make hamburgers tonight! Don't try looking for a good burger in Paris. They don't exist. And most of the French, if they ever saw one, wouldn't know what to do with it. If you see a distressed French person with a burger in front of them, tell them to pick it up with their hands and take a bite. Most may try to take the bun off and proceed to eat the patty with a knife and fork. I've heard it happen.

Anyways, I was looking for yellow mustard at one of the larger supermarkets in the area. This is Monoprix, which does sell international items, including tortillas, soy milk, and Indian curry sauces. I couldn't find my mustard. The three mustard shelves were dominated with Dijon! Those of you in the U.S. will know it under the brand name, Grey Poupon, and recall commercials of hoity-toity French people with white gloves driving around offering Dijon whenever necessary. I did come across a squeeze-bottle that looked like American yellow mustard, but I was nearly duped. I checked the ingredients, and I saw the magic word, "Dijon." Dijon is fine, don't get me wrong. It's okay if I'm making a fancy dressing for my salad of baby greens, but don't expect me to mar my burger with its extremely intense flavor.

So, I gave up the yellow mustard quest. Onto the next quest. Mayonnaise. Just give me plain mayonnaise. Can this be difficult? Yes, in France. They like Dijon so much here, that it has infiltrated the mayonnaise! There were probably about ten different mayos on the shelf, and all but one had Dijon in it. I bought the "mayonnaise fine" as opposed to the "mayonnaise saveureuse et oncteuse." At home, I put away my purchases and took a closer look at the mayonnaise jar. It'll only last me three weeks after opening. Great. Mayonnaise normally lasts longer than that, right? Geez, and we don't eat much of that stuff around here, especially after changing to our lighter eating habits. Could anyone use some mayo?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Yikes

I thought I'd take a little tour of random blogs (just click on the next blog button on the top right hand corner of your window -- it'll take you to different blogs every time) and discovered in less than a minute, a sex-crazed 30 year-old from Las Vegas and a site devoted to promoting liposuction. Nice.

Discipline

I've been a bit under the weather this week (I think I'm coming down with Maylin's bug or a permutation thereof) and I've totally let the house go. It's a wreck. But, I'm going to get it back in order and also, the rest of my life, with a little discipline. I need to start a routine for myself. It's always harder to get things done when you don't have a schedule (since I'm not working or going to school). I was going to start my days at 7 am (but I woke up around 5:30 am involuntarily today) to do yoga and clean up the house. I was also going to try to put Maylin to bed earlier so I could at least have an hour to study French in relative silence. I've already done my yoga while watching the serious video which is humorously titled, Yoga for Inflexible People. I think I'm a pretty flexible person, but maybe not physically. Even when I was a little kid taking dance lessons, I couldn't do the splits like a lot of my friends. My flexibility did increase tremendously after starting to take a jazz dance class in Berkeley when Maylin was eight months-old. What really helped me was the ballet workout which the teacher incorporated into warm-up. This was not beginner ballet, although there were a few beginners like me in the class. Mostly, there were young dancers who had studied ballet for years as children and now were majoring in dance in nearby colleges. I did my best to fit in. I could by no means raise my leg as high as those young'uns, but I could hold it as long as anyone else. I learned to balance myself on one foot (in the turned out ballet position) quite well. I've always had strong legs so once the teacher explained how to center ourselves, the workout got more manageable. I really miss ballet -- the beauty and the intense physicality of it. I hope to make some time to take a ballet class at the Centre du Marais. I haven't been out there to see it yet, but from other people, it sounds marvelous. There's a courtyard outside where you can sip your hot coffee or chocolat chaud while watching one of at least five classes happening simultaneously through the large windows in the building around you. They have all kinds of dance classes, including modern and jazz.

I also want to take an abstract painting class and a sculpting class. It'd be nice to do this in Paris, but if it doesn't happen, I'll do it when I get back to the States. And even if I don't do it immediately after we return, I won't mind starting those activities when I'm a senior citizen. Just hope I have my sight.

It's 7 am now, so I'm going to hop in the shower and then clean the kitchen. For some reason, John hasn't been cleaning the kitchen regularly like he used to after each dinner. Maybe it's time to have a talk. :)

Le papier hygienique

That's the French word for toilet tissue. It took awhile for me to get used to the kind they have here. First of all, the default color seems to be pink. What's up with that? Since it's hard to find white toilet tissue in the immediate neighborhood regularly, we've opted for the purple stuff, which is even lavendar-scented. The other thing about le papier hygienique is the softness, or lack there of. Don't expect anything like Quilted Northern. Think of strong, durable, resistant -- like a paper towel. Yes, you could probably clean your kitchen with this stuff. Lotus makes a decent, soft tissue, but that's a pricier product. There's also a completely different format that's available. It looks like a cube, or a square pad of paper. I don't even dare take a closer look, but I'm not sure how you could properly dispense tissue like that.

Facial tissue (mouchoirs) is a little bit better. It seems like the Lotus brand is the only one that's really figured out how to make things soft. But even Lotus produces some super-absorbent, super-strong tissue for their portable packets of tissue. The other brands do the same. They're not really soft at all, and they look more like dinner napkins than facial tissue. Do they really think we're buying this stuff to take to a barbeque or something? Come on. We're just trying to wipe our noses, for crying out loud.

The Kleenex brand has just entered the market recently, so maybe we Americans can now have some piece of mind.

I still like living here.

The occasional rude French woman

I don't think I've ever encountered this in the States, but this has happened at least twice to me. I'll be waiting in the check-out line patiently like a good little customer, and all of a sudden, someone will squeeze in front of me and ask a question of the cashier. Then, this person who thinks they're better than everyone else will put down their purchases to pay for them. Nice move. It happened to me at the toy store yesterday. The cashiers never seem to have the power to say no to these impatient, obnoxious customers. Everyone seems to want to avoid conflict. Including myself. I thought afterwards, "Well, why didn't I say something? Like, 'Excusez-moi, madame, mais ca c'est impoli.'" (Excuse me, ma'am, but that's rude.) But I didn't. And then there's an occasion where there is no obvious line, like at the marche (open market) sometimes. There will be a crowd of people in front of the vendor selling fruits and veggies, and it's strictly the honor system at that point, but there are going to be some abusers out there. The abusers seem to be the bourgeoisie-type. They're the ones that give the French a bad reputation. Fortunately, there are very, very few of them. But the encounters are really annoying.

Yes, I still like living here.

Monday, June 06, 2005

No more gorgonzola for me

Since coming to France, I've been trying lots of different cheeses and enjoying them. Most actually agree with me, even though I'm in a family of lactose-intolerants. Many of the best cheeses here are made of raw milk or are the moldy sort (blue cheeses), and the latter group includes gorgonzola. I had it on pizza about eight hours ago, and my stomach's been bugging me ever since. No nausea, no diarrhea, thank goodness, but it's a bit uncomfortable and is keeping me up. I slept until maybe 2:30 or 3 am and now it's 4 am. At least Maylin's sleeping great tonight. The previous night was a nightmare for me because she's been sick. She kept waking up and was very thirsty. I think she's over the sporadic low-grade fevers now. But her nose has begun to run non-stop, and she still has a cough. It's not a bad cough. but if it sounds any worse, we're going to the doctor.

This year has not been good for our health, but I have heard from two expats that it is normal to get sick frequently the first year after moving here. I don't know if that goes for moving to any foreign city, but it's true for Paris.

Sorry this is short but I've already been up for awhile answering e-mails and should try to go back to sleep again. Au revoir!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

I'm a little helper

The other part of myself that I tend to forget sometimes is the little helper in me. I love helping people. I guess I do small acts of kindness once in awhile, like help out my cousin's daughter by writing a letter to her and her junior kindergarten class about Paris. I wrote the letter from Maylin's point of view. Here it is:

May, 2005

Hello to Christine and the Junior Kindergarten Class of Chesterbrook Academy!

Hi! My name is Maylin. I live in Paris, France, with Mommy, Daddy, and our dog Leo. I am two and a half years-old. We moved here a year ago from California. Paris is a fun place for kids. On Wednesday afternoons, kids don’t have school and are free to go to the many parks, museums, puppet shows, and circuses! We even have Disneyland Paris nearby!

In September, I’ll be going to the French version of preschool, called an “ecole maternelle.” My classes will all be in French. Everyday, I will go to school around 8:30 am, go home for lunch and a nap for two to three hours, come back to school for two more hours, and then go home at 4:30 pm. In France, they like to take long lunch breaks so they can enjoy their food and relax.

Spring is the prettiest time of year in Paris. There are lots of flowers in the city gardens. Summer can get pretty hot and humid. Lots of the buildings are really old so they don’t have air conditioning. It can get very uncomfortable in the summer. In the fall, it gets colder, and in the winter, even colder. This past February, it was so cold there was snow, which is unusual for Paris. Throughout the year, Mommy and Daddy often have to carry an umbrella because the weather can change very quickly. A sunny morning can turn into heavy rain in the afternoon.

I love the food in France. There are 365 different kinds of cheeses in France, one for every day of the year. Most French people like smelly, runny cheese, but there’s the normal kind, too, which is really good. Bakeries are everywhere. I can eat fresh bread and croissants every day. Most bakeries make desserts, and some even make chocolates! After school, kids often eat a snack of bread and chocolate – like a sandwich with a soft chocolate spread, or a “pain au chocolat” which tastes like a croissant with chocolate in the middle. Yummy!

France is a really big country – the biggest one in Europe. And it has over 60 million people living in it. There are eleven and a half million people in Paris. Lots of people live in Paris, but the rest of France is quite nice, too. In the south, there are beautiful, warm, sandy beaches, in the west, there are wild cliffs, in the north, there are the beaches that were used in World War II, and in the east, there are mountains and cute little villages. It kind of reminds me of California, with so many different geological features.

People like dogs here. Most people have little dogs, though. There are lots of restaurants and hotels that let dogs in as long as they behave. My dog Leo has stayed at many hotels with us when we go on vacation throughout France. We have a bakery below our apartment, and they give Leo a treat whenever we go to buy bread. They give me a treat, too.

My mommy is giving your class some postcards, including the Arc de Triomphe (we live really close to it), the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Opera House, Sacre Coeur (a church, whose name is “Sacred Heart” in English), and a view of the city of Paris. My mommy is giving a French book to Christine that she can share with your class. Mommy will translate it for you.

I’d love to have you write to me! Come visit us if you can!

[end of letter]

And here's an e-mail back from my cousin:

Dear Caroline,

Thanks for the package of Paris. It’s wonderful. You must have spent lots of time on it - even the package cover is so pretty.

The teacher let Christine to show Maylin’s pictures and postcards to the class yesterday. She was so proud when she showed her friends. Christine said “They were so jealous. They kept saying "Ooooooooooh your cousin is sooooooooo cute!”. She said one of the girls even wanted to kiss the picture and the teacher had to stop her.

Her teacher read the letter and the book to the class. They all love the book. It’s a very cute book. I cut out your translation and taped each paragraph on the corresponding page, so it’s easier for the teacher and Christine to read and see the pictuers. Christine was amazed to find the authors’ names are Paule and Christine. One of the boys in her class is Paul. His
birthday is two days earlier than Christine. They had a joined birthday party last year. Christine is so happy to see both Paul and her name on the book. She pointed it out to her teacher proudly.

Christine told me when the teacher finished reading the letter and asked “Who wants to go to Paris?”, everyone raised the hand. Your letter is wonderful, lots of interesting facts about Paris. Even Sarah loves to read it.

Thank you so much for helping Christine. You make her feel so proud in her class.

[end of e-mail]

And that makes me feel good.

I've also been trying to help friends find their passion in life, or at least find a new, more satisfying career or direction. Here's what I wrote to one friend in an e-mail:

Don't forget to start a journal. I'll be your cheerleader if you need one to keep you motivated to write down your ideas and thoughts during your process of self-discovery. Let me tell ya, nearly every goal/dream that I've written down has come to fruition or is in the process of being made real. Write, write, write! Answer these questions periodically: What would make me really happy? What activities make me the happiest? When I was a child, what did I really enjoy doing? In my life, when were the times, or what were the activities I was doing, when I completely lost track of time? If I could be anything, what would I be? When were the times I was really jealous of someone? Why was I jealous? The answers will tell you a lot.

[end of e-mail excerpt]

I also told her about the book, Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want, by Barbara Sher and Annie Gottlieb. I have not read it myself yet, but I saw Barbara Sher on PBS a few years back teaching her ideas from her first book, Live the Life You Love. Her suggestions are not new-agey nor spiritual at all, but very practical and make a lot of sense! I already purchased it for a friend here, and will probably get one for myself, too. Even though I'm on the right track now with my life, it's always good to be reminded to stay on track!

Someday, I want to go beyond being a little helper to being a big helper. Doesn't everyone want to make a difference in this world? I have a grand idea, but I need to do some more research into it. Maybe you can help me if I can get it all started. I may even need your help to get it started to begin with. Big, daring things are quite daunting to me. And again, I always worry about not being able to follow-through. Yes, I hope you can help me.

Okay, go make someone smile today!

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Perfect date

Ahhh...It's 2:07 am and I've got jazz playing on the radio. John and Maylin are sleeping together on Maylin's bed. And I have peace now.

I had a perfect date with John yesterday. We were supposed to go to a choir concert, but I had to change plans because Maylin was a little sick with a temperature and I wanted to stay in the neighborhood in case I needed to get home quickly to her. I had already reserved the sitter, so we were going out. Maylin was in good spirits, so I knew it'd be okay to go out. We use a babysitting agency for our evening childcare needs. It's great -- I can reserve a sitter whenever I want. I can even get a sitter on the same day. I try to call in advance so I can request our favorite sitter who Maylin likes and who speaks perfect English.

John and I got dressed up and went to a cozy neighborhood Provencal restaurant and had a full meal with an aperitif (kir -- white wine flavored with a sweet cassis syrup), a bottle of Sancerre (a fruity white wine), entree (appetizer), plat (main dish), and dessert. Their homemade olive bread is to die for. It came right out of the oven to our table. John started with a mushroom and artichoke heart salad while I had a baked tomato stuffed with herbed goat cheese. For our main dishes, we had fish. Mine was a smoked haddock over some really yummy mashed potatoes. John had a brandade (a little baked casserole of fish mixed with mashed potatoes). For dessert, John chose the homemade sorbets (three different flavors, including mint, raspberry, and ?). I had the "grosse meringue," which I will never order again. It tasted fine, but it was really huge -- a big, puffy cloud of eggwhite and sugar, with some sorbet on top and fruit around. Some bites got really sticky -- like bits of taffy that took forever to dissolve in my mouth. A little odd for a dessert in a nice restaurant.

After dinner, we walked to the Champs-Elysees via the Arc de Triomphe to watch Star Wars III in v.o. (version originale -- English!). As is typical, the previews go for 15-20 minutes with the lights on low. People talk during this entire time. Theater staff carry trays of snacks and drinks to sell. When the lights finally go off completely and the movie starts, everyone is polite and hushes up. I thought the story and the action was exciting, but I was longing for much better acting. Yoda, who I think is a completely digital character, did the best acting out of the entire human and digital cast. Do you think he could win an Oscar for best supporting actor?

We came out of the theater after midnight and the Champs-Elysees was still hopping. It's beautiful -- there's so much life in some areas of Paris in the late evening. Walking home on Avenue Wagram, many of the restaurants were still open, full of hungry, thirsty people. On a quiet, dark portion of the street, we encountered a sight that you don't see everyday. A young man on roller blades bought a condom out of a dispenser located on the outside of a building (condom dispensers are in all the metro stations, but I hadn't noticed the ones on the street) and hurried off on his fast wheels. We continued walking. Avenue Ternes has mostly stores, so it was quiet but everything was lit. Avenue Niel was even quieter. Then, our street. Nice and quiet, like it should be. Except for the occasional annoying scooter with its lawnmower engine.

It was the perfect date not just because the dinner was delicious and the movie was entertaining, but because John and I were enjoying each other's company so much. We had some really good conversation going. I think I took control of the conversations, shared a lot of my thoughts, asked a lot of questions, and got a lot back. I didn't have any expectations of John or the evening. But I put my whole self into the occasion -- appreciating every precious moment. It's amazing how one's mindset can totally affect one's experience.

I haven't been writing too long, but I should try to go to bed. Good night!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

My inner critic

Hey, it's 4:04 am! Prime time for blog writing! I think Maylin woke me up around 3 am, I tried going back to sleep unsuccessfully, read a little bit, and then started thinking, "I haven't been writing in my blog lately! Why?" The culprit: my inner critic. I was stupid enough to listen to it. This little voice told me that I didn't have anything more interesting to say. I started developing some weird mental block. I don't know what was the cause of it, but I'm going to tear it down starting now. Why should I worry about being interesting anyway? If it's not interesting, you won't read it, and that's okay with me.

Life has actually been really good lately. I've been taking control of our social life and have begun a list of people to invite over for dinner. And very methodically, I have been arranging dinners for every Saturday evening. If you haven't been invited yet, it may be because you're a few thousand miles too far away, or because my list is very long. Please be patient, or insist on being put on the list! It's been nice cooking for friends and getting to know everyone a little better. I've been finding out just how cool everybody is, and it's been fun.

I have arranged a date for John and me for tonight. We're going to attend a choir concert. Something I haven't done in ages. One of my friends (one of John's colleagues) is singing in it. Maybe someday, John will surprise me and set up a date for us. He'll reserve the babysitter and everything. Only in my dreams?

A couple days ago, I hosted a farewell party for one of my good friends here in Paris. It is a sad fact in the life of expatriates. Your expat friends will leave you, one by one. One leaves on Monday, one leaves a week later. Several more will leave by the end of the year. And a couple more a year after that. And then we'll leave eventually. At least, that's our intention.

I had my second voice lesson this week, and I've definitely shown improvement despite my spotty practicing. I've got to be more diligent. I practiced for at least an hour today, and it felt great! My breathing technique has greatly improved. Something funky is happening with my high notes (I think I'm singing a little too heavy, too loud) which will require some adjustment. But I'm totally excited that I'm working on Pamina's aria "Ach, ich fuhl's" from Mozart's The Magic Flute and will start on music from Donizetti's The Elixir of Love or his Don Pasquale! I've sung a duet from Don Pasquale in an opera scenes concert before, but it'll be nice to work on more of that role.

I took myself on a date today to visit the Modern Art Museum in the Centre Pompidou but found out that the best part was closed! No Picasso, no Matisse, no Kandinsky! Can you believe that? So I didn't go. Before I found that out, I went to get a my first crepe from a vendor. We chatted (in Paris, I think chatting with the merchants is mandatory) and this Egyptian vendor discovered that I was married, with a kid, and was the same age as him. He couldn't believe it. When I'm wearing my burgandy Jansport backpack, I can easily mix in with the lyceens (high-schoolers) here. It's nice to be called "mademoiselle" once in awhile.

So the crepe I had was huge! I had no idea it would be the size of a Bay Area burrito. I ordered a crepe with Nutella (hazelnut-chocolate sauce) and banana, and it was the sweetest thing I had ever had. It was painful to eat after awhile. Half of the Nutella would've been sufficient. Unfortunately, I had to discard half of the poor thing. Next time, I'll just get a simple crepe sucree (sweet crepe) with citron (lemon) and sucre (sugar). Or even better, I'll make my own at home. It's totally easy. I'll give you a recipe next time.

Desserts here are normally really good, as you can imagine, and are not as sweet as their American counterparts. I much prefer the sweets here. It is so tempting walking by all the patisseries and bakeries with their gorgeous pastries and cakes in the windows. And so cheap! These are the desserts that you might see at a more upscale restaurant in the States for $8. Well, it's only 1.5-3 euros here! If you've got a sweet-tooth, I'd advise against moving to Paris, unless you don't mind gaining a few kilos or so. Fortunately, because of my Chinese background (usually no dessert after dinner), I never feel the need to eat something sweet (except for during the pregnancy).