Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bad luck with tenors 2

Tenor number four was supposed to show up yesterday, but didn't. He said he thought it was the following week. Are tenors always this flaky or ditzy? We gave him another chance -- he could come over tonight. He canceled two hours in advance saying he wasn't interested in joining our opera group anymore. Said he couldn't or wouldn't sing "Les Contes d'Hoffman," which would be a requirement. Bizarre.

So, no luck. I think I'm through with the search. Enough with flaky, ditzy, confused, tricky, and damaged tenors. We have to firm up the repertoire now before I leave for the States. Where are the normal tenors when you need them?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Addicted to fussing around with beads

You haven't heard from me in over a week because I've had a houseguest, and because all of my spare time has been spent making jewelry or buying supplies for making jewelry. I am totally addicted! I can make a long necklace in half an hour, but most pieces take less time. Talk about instant gratification. Sometimes I have a vision for a piece, but most times, I'm inspired by the beads themselves and play around with them in different combinations. I've just learned how to do earrings -- so easy! Those happen in minutes!

After giving out some of my latest creations as gifts, I have been encouraged to sell my work. I'm not quite ready -- I don't want to blow all my stock at once, but maybe in a month or so, if I can keep this pace up. I'm going to try my hand at making my own beads, too, out of a clay called Fimo that hardens after half an hour in a hot oven. That'll be a totally new adventure.

Wrongly accused

On Monday afternoon, an irritated, unpleasant employee from the real estate agency downstairs complained to me about a serious water leak that came through their ceiling in the morning and that was causing damage to their office. She assumed the source of the problem was in my apartment. I think the cafe people downstairs clued her into my previous serious plumbing problem in the kitchen. She kept asking if I lived above their agency. I didn't think I did, so I said "no." She wasn't happy with my answer, but she marched off with a huff and a puff.

Around eight in the evening, in the middle of my opera rehearsal chez moi, the same woman and an equally disagreeable co-employee came to complain again. They just experienced a new leak and were quite convinced the problem was my shower room. They asked if I had used it in the last five minutes. I just told them the truth -- my daughter had washed her hands there in the sink half and hour earlier, surely not enough to cause an "inundation." They wanted to look at the "salle de bain" and there were no apparent leakage issues there. They were still convinced the problem was me. They asked for the gardienne's number, which I gave them willingly. (The gardienne or gardien cleans the halls, stairs, takes out the trash, and is the first person to go to if there's a problem with the apartment or the building.) After the women left, the gardienne came up to ask me not to use the shower room at all the next day to see if the problem could be isolated. She said a plumber would arrive but she didn't know when.

My guest and I went without showers the next day. I didn't know if I could bare being unwashed for an entire day. I was not surprised to not see the plumber at all. I called the gardienne to find out if in fact a plumber would be coming. She said she left a message with the head gardienne but had not heard yet. I left a message with the head gardienne expressing the urgency of the situation in my best, fluid, and fast(!) French. I was not going to go without a shower for a second day and have my guest under the same punishment. That evening, I was going out, and at least managed a hair wash in the kitchen sink.

We took our showers that night despite the possible consequences. At least we wouldn't be caught in the act in the morning if something disastrous happened downstairs.

At 8:30 am, I finally got a call from the head gardienne about the plumber having already come to examine the problem (not to my place, but the agency, I guess). Thank goodness the source of all this misery was not in my salle de bain, but in another apartment on the other side of my wall. But why couldn't I have been told earlier? As soon as this fact was made known? She probably didn't realize that I had been expecting the plumber, unhappily unbathed.

Bad luck with tenors

Our opera group seemed to have little difficulty finding a new pianist after I let the last one go. One of our singers put out an announcement on the internet and we got a reply immediately. She's perfect. A professional accompanist who would rather work with an amateur group at the moment, which means we don't have to pay her. What luck! We're all having a good time making music together.

Finding the perfect tenor has been almost a disaster so far. Another one of our singers has been working really hard to screen them, schedule auditions with them, etc. The first one refused to sing anything for his audition. Unbelievable. Well, maybe not so unbelievable considering he's never sung an opera aria in his life -- he's strictly a choral tenor, performing in choirs for a decade or decades. I asked him if he was taking lessons. Yes, he replied. But it turns out his lessons are not serious, private lessons with a voice teacher. They are group lessons with his choir. I told him the bad news -- that our group would be too difficult for him.

So tenor number one was on one side of the spectrum. Tenor number two, a conservatory student from China, wanted to convince us he was way on the other side, so good that he didn't need to commit to regular weekly rehearsals even after he was told over the phone the rehearsals were required. At his audition, which was more like a negotiation, he would not take "no" for an answer -- and he wouldn't leave until I said he could sing one or two duets with me in the July concert. I only gave in this little bit because I could probably get away with just a few rehearsals before the concert. Well, he's taken off for China for a month -- we'll see if he's still interested when he gets back. If I find a more appropriate person for a group, he's outta here.

Tenor number three, a former professional singer, seems to be a nice enough guy and has a nice voice, but he's seriously damaged his vocal cords singing repertoire that was too heavy for his voice type -- a Mozartian tenor should not be attempting Verdi's Rigoletto, no matter how fun it is. I'm afraid I won't be able to take him since he can't sing the requisite high A. He's just not a tenor anymore, unfortunately.

We'll see our final (?) tenor on Monday. He's a semi-professional or professional. I have to be wary of his motives. Why join an amateur group when there are paying gigs out there? If it's just to add another line to his curriculm vitae, then our group dynamics may change for the worse. Right now, we all get along so well and have such a good balance of work and fun. We are making music because we enjoy it and because we are all interested in improving our musicianship, performance skills, and vocal technique. If we throw in someone who's way above us, I'm afraid of what the psychological or social ramifications may be.

By the way, a miracle is slowly unraveling in my throat. My high notes are coming back! I was so scared I'd have to go see a specialist, but I think with enough vocal rest, I should have my voice in very good condition in a week or two.

Wish me luck with my voice and the tenors!

Friday, January 20, 2006

She's better already

Maylin's been quite good these last couple days. We've had a good routine going for school, and this morning, she had no problems getting dressed, brushing her teeth, washing her face, feeding Prince the goldfish, and putting on her jacket, scarf, and hat (all this with some help, of course). She didn't even fuss when I said she'd be eating lunch at school today, not at home. Yesterday, Daddy took her to school as usual and left quickly so she wouldn't have a chance to cry. I think she's finally settling in -- even though she keeps saying she doesn't like school.

Most often, when we're playing at home, she wants to roleplay -- she's "Madame," her teacher, and I'm Maylin. We interact with her imagined classmates -- usually Hugo -- in the cantine (cafeteria) or the classroom. "Madame" gives me lunch, or gives me paper and a crayon to draw. My daughter has to like school to some degree, right? If she wants to relive it over and over again, school can't be that bad.

Maylin hasn't had me play the role of "big elephant" for a long time, but I've had to become "Black Beauty," a horse from one of her movies. She's always very gentle with me and very loving when I'm Black Beauty. Lots of hugs.

Last night, she willingly stepped into the shower for her bath. I didn't have to do any wheeling and dealing like I used to have to do. She loves to work in her preschool workbooks, so I use them to my advantage. "After four pages, we'll take a bath." She doesn't complain -- just complies quietly. What a dream!

She's really good with the workbooks -- most of them are in French, but the concepts are universal. Big and small, in front and behind, circles and squares, counting, etc. She circles items very well, and just learned how to "x" out things. She can also underline, and color inside the lines, but not perfectly. The poor dear gets frustrated when she goes out of the lines -- that's when she asks me to color for her. She adores any work with stickers, which she stick perfectly in their respective places on the page.

A precious sight yesterday was when she gestured Leo to come over and pet him so nicely. Leo enjoyed it a great deal since his tail was wagging happily. It's great to see these interactions because they are so few. I imagine when she gets older, there will be more of these positive encounters.

Same old story

I was having some great nights of solid sleep, but last night, we had some feisty winter mosquitoes -- woke me up around 3 am! And of course, I couldn't get back to sleep for another two hours -- the usual. My mind went from the farewell luncheon I'm planning for some expat friends, e-mails I need to send out, dinners I need to plan, what I need to practice for my next opera group rehearsal, my ballet class that I really want to attend but probably won't because I'll be too tired, so on and so forth. I was quite happy and content scrolling through all these subjects and resolving several problems, but I knew I would pay for the loss of sacred sleep. It's no wonder I've missed my ballet class and now feel so off-kilter that it would probably be wise to stay in today on my day off.

Where did the mosquitoes come from? Who knows, but we've had a wet few days. They're probably breeding in the courtyard in a nice puddle. I had opened the windows after a friend suggested to let in some fresh air occasionally -- might help with my health problems. I think I did feel better than usual, more energized -- the air is so dry with the radiators on full-blast and so stuffy because I haven't been ventilating the place. Yesterday, I also turned off most of the radiators since it's not freezing anymore.

I haven't needed my gloves for several days. I haven't been wearing my hat for quite awhile. A mild Paris January. We even had some beautiful, sunny weekends. Sundays have really been sun days. In California, I took the expected sun-filled days for granted. Now, if we have sun one day, everyone makes a big deal out of it -- "il fait beau" -- literally, "it makes beautiful." You can't really discuss the weather at great length in the Bay Area. Rather ho-hum. Here, it can make up an entire conversation while you finish your croissant and cafe creme.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Tough parenting lesson

One of my friends had lunch with me the other day, and I had Maylin along. Maylin kept trying to talk to me, interrupting our conservation frequently. My friend pointed out that I shouldn't let her get away with that. I appreciated her comment and asked for some advice. I guess it's the same parenting advice I've read about in the past. Be consistent. Set boundaries. Follow through -- do what you say you'll do if certain unacceptable behaviors are demonstrated. I didn't think it was already time to be the tough parent. Maylin was just a baby yesterday. But, very recently, in the last few weeks or so, Maylin's proven that she is a vocal, strong-willed little girl who knows exactly what she wants. She's also so smart that she's been able to manipulate Mommy many times. How many times has she put off bedtime or bathtime with, "I'm hungry"? Or thrown a temper tantrum making me give in to her?

I never wanted to spoil her, but it turns out that I am -- in an effort to be the good Mommy. I give her my time and my attention, sacrificing my own sanity, at times. If I have the energy, it's fun -- I don't mind doing things with her all day. But when I'm tired or need to get things done, she's exhausting. She might not let me nap or let me work at the computer. She rarely lets me practice my singing..."no singing!" or "it's too loud." I can't play the piano either. My friend told me I need to tell Maylin when it's Mommy time. And if she doesn't give me my time, she has to go to her room.

John doesn't have this same problem. Maylin knows that when Daddy's working on the computer, Daddy won't give her any attention. She leaves him alone. It's hard for me to ignore her. If she wants something -- some fruit, me to play with her, I give it to her.

It'll be hard to learn how to be firm, but I've got to, for my sake and hers.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Groceries delivered to my door!

I have a few options for obtaining my 6-packs of bottled sparkling mineral water and "bricks" of milk. I can either go to a neighborhood grocery store or supermarket and haul it home myself with much difficulty and hand pain. I can go to the same places and load up a cart with seventy euros worth of these heavy things and get free delivery. I can have John drive us to the suburbs to an hypermarche and stock up, but this isn't fun for anyone. The latest thing I've tried is an online grocery delivery service. I can get almost everything I need. I still prefer to get my own produce and meat, but anything else -- big bags of dog food, large packs of toilet paper and towels, shampoo, pasta and canned tomatoes, eggs, milk, and bottled water, I can order online. There's a delivery fee, of course, but it's so worth it. You can create a list of favorite, frequently purchased items, making future orders really quick. This all means I have less stress and more free time because I don't have to worry about running out of something and having to run out to the store again -- on a Sunday being the worst because everything's closed!

When my groceries arrived promptly, on the hour, it was like Christmas. A friendly delivery man carried several, sturdy cardboard boxes up to my apartment, and it was fun unpacking everything. We can keep the boxes or give them back next time. Right now, the boxes are large building blocks for making castles! Who knew you could get free toys with a grocery delivery?

Deux kilos de litchis, s'il vous plait

Maylin is addicted to litchis, a rather exotic red fruit the size of a strawberry with a somewhat spikey skin that must be peeled and juicy, sweet white flesh around a beautiful, shiny, brick-red seed. I fell in love wth this fruit on a 1983 trip to Taiwan, where they can be quite luscious. The ones we're in eating in our cold winter are from Madagascar, where it must be a nice, hot summer now. I help Maylin get them open, and she peels and eats them -- a pound at a time! Two kilos, or 4.4 pounds, only last a few days in our house.

Before I had been buying the litchis at the supermarket (this exotic fruit is in vogue right now), but I found them just as inexpensive and delicious at the outdoor marche on rue Lebon. I've gone there at least three times, paying 1,90-2,50 euros per kilo. The middle-aged gentleman who has helped me most of time didn't smile until my third purchase with him. The younger man was much friendlier, with lots of smiles for me. Unfortunately, this friendly guy gave me some bad raspberries last time -- very disappointing after an amazing purchase of these Mexican-imported beauties earlier in the week. Yesterday, I went back to tell him about it, and he gave me two containers of good ones for free. He knows that if he wants me to continue being a repeat customer, he has to keep me happy.

Yesterday, John, Maylin, and I had a wonderful, simple lunch at a crepe restaurant in our neighborhood on rue Lebon -- a few yards from my fruit stand. John enjoyed a chicken and cheese crepe, I savored my "crepiflette" (crepe with tartiflette ingredients: good and smelly reblocheron cheese, potatoes, and bacon), and Maylin wolfed down her latest favorite French meal, a croque monsieur (toasted sandwich with two slices of white bread, ham in the middle, topped with Bechamel sauce and grated cheese). We had excellent, friendly service -- no signs of the old-style French arrogance. I felt very French among the many other lunching families. This was obviously the best neighborhood restaurant for taking children to lunch.

And I felt very French afterwards buying my litchis outdoors again.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A little freedom doesn't hurt

Ahh...I feel much better after having been out of the apartment, Maylin-free, for five and a half hours. I really needed that. I was cooped up too long without too much of a break from Maylin. I feel rejuvenated!

John suggested that I take a ballet class, which I did. I tried a different teacher this time -- the class was even better than the last one I took at the Centre de Danse du Marais. I prefer the standard workout at the bar which we started off with. I'm quite good at that, so it was a good beginning for me. We also did a slow dance routine which wasn't too bad. It was very beautiful and many of the students danced it very gracefully. One of the following short routines which included an unfamiliar step totally threw me off and I had to practice on my own on the sidelines until one of the most experienced dancers kindly came by to explain it slowly to me. The teacher (not the usual one) was tres sympa -- very nice and funny, too. I didn't feel any pressure at all, even though everyone else looked like they had taken the same class for years together. Most of them seemed friendly -- the smiley ones were Asian and Italian, but one French lady did smile at me, too. I'll probably come back to the same class again next week, even though I heard it will be the regular teacher who isn't as funny and who is very strict with technique. That's okay. That's exactly what I need.

The dance school isn't far from the Hotel de Ville, where there is a free Willy Ronis photography exhibit until mid-February. I don't know if he's still around, but he's been taking pictures of Paris and its people since the 30's. Most of them were wonderful black-and-white prints of an innocent, romantic Paris -- a smiling boy running down the sidewalk with a very large baguette under his arm, lovers kissing under a bridge, a misty morning near Sevres-Babylone. I was near tears of happiness, living in this other world for a brief moment. It was a wonder to be able to use the free toilet in the exhibit, too.

Afterwards, I walked along the Seine towards the Louvre, eating my supermarket ham-and-cheese sandwich (I'm trying to be thrifty now). It was too cold outside to sit down, so I just kept moving. It was still romantic, looking at the Left Bank across the Seine. And I felt sexy in my skin-tight black dance outfit under my black wool coat. And I could hear my confidence in the click-clack of my high-heeled, knee-high black boots. It was ego-boosting to receive the admiring glances of people from both sexes.

I crossed over the eastern side of the Louvre to Rue de Rivoli. Lots of tourist shops that I tried to ignore. But with the big January sales, I found myself in a handbag store -- purses for 10 euros. Purses for 4,50 euros! Wow -- nothing for me, though. I walked past Galignani's -- a very overpriced, but very elegant bookstore that has an English language book section. I passed by Angelina's, the fancy salon du the (tea room) that serves an amazingly rich, dark hot chocolate with loads of whipped cream...

I went to the British bookstore, W.H. Smith, to do some research. I did some reading on jewelry-making, acrylic painting techniques, and Italian cooking. I wasn't going to spend thirty euros on one book, so I left after I had memorized what I needed to know.

I could have walked back home, but I took the fast line 1 from Place de La Concorde to Charles de Gaulle-Etoile, home of the Arc de Triomphe. And now, I still have a glorious one and half hour to myself. Me-time will cure me anytime. I think I'll leave the house messy and make some jewelry.

Have a great day!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Happy?

In December, I was so happy living here -- I was active socially, I was organizing events, I was making things...now, I just want to go home. And I am going back to the States soon, but I've got the expat blues. Awhile ago, I said that I get depressed or grumpy if I don't create. Now, I'm thinking that it's possible that I am depressed and that the act of creating is a temporary escape out of that depression. I've read about these Paris blues. It's quite common among expats. I thought it'd never hit me, but it's probably hitting me now. I'm still functioning normally, but not with the excitement and energy I had before. I've got to re-invigorate myself. I'll go to a ballet class this morning, maybe see a photography exhibit at the Hotel de Ville afterwards, and do the finishing touches on some of my jewelry. Tonight, Maylin will be with a sitter while I spend a few hours at someone's farewell party. I haven't socialized in a long time -- I probably need it.

I told John last night that I feel a little claustrophobic now -- I think it comes with the city living. I feel closed in -- I need to see some wide open spaces. This is why many Parisians get a house in the country. It's impossible to stay in a big city like this all the time. We need breathing room.

My singing voice hasn't completely recuperated, and that's a big deal to me since I consider my voice a significant part of my identity -- I am a singer after all. For a soprano, high notes are what make us special -- and I don't have any of mine back yet. Very frustrating. This is definitely contributing to my restlessness, uneasiness. I had this exact same physical problem last year. Quite bizarre, really. It lasted for several months -- just enough to really scare me, but when I finally had the guts to go see a voice specialist, I was cured. Don't you hate it when that happens?

Okay, I'm going to go and have a good day today!

My personal secretary

Yesterday morning, while I was in the shower, Maylin came to tell me happily, while holding the telephone, that she talked to Grandma. When I checked the phone, Grandma wasn't on the line. Several minutes afteward, I got out of the shower and forgot about the incident. I got a call later from one of my friends and found out that it was she who had called earlier, not Grandma. She said that Maylin picked up the phone and talked quite a bit but that she couldn't understand her. Wow, this is the first time Maylin's answered the phone and talked! Usually, if I'm calling Grandma or Grandpa, Maylin's too shy to say anything. I guess she's coming out of her shell.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Boulangerie guilt

I feel like a traitor. We had stopped buying our daily baguette from the bakery downstairs when we started eating fewer white carbs. But now that we've reinstated white carbs into our diet, I've been going to another bakery a couple blocks away because I like their crusty, artisan loaf better. I try to avoid walking past our old boulangerie with another bakery's bread in hand. I have to hide the offending object in my backpack.

The old boulangeres were very nice to us -- giving Maylin candies and Leo chouquettes, but they seemed distant at the same time. Their baguettes were a little different -- chewier than most, and lacking a crispy crust. Their artisan loaf, "la Campaillette," for which you have to pay about 25 cents more is pretty good, but when compared to their rival's "Croquise," it just doesn't measure up. The Croquise has an amazingly crispy, crusty exterior and an incredibly moist and slightly chewy interior. The Campaillette's crust is too hard sometimes and its interior is chewier and not very moist. The Croquise just costs 5 cents more than a Campaillette.

A little guilt is worth the better bread, I think.

Do not leave new goldfish unattended

Maylin's been asking for a goldfish since she saw a girl on the metro with one in a plastic bag last week. So, today, we went to Bercy Village's Animalis store to get one. Maylin's face totally lit up when she saw the man put "Prince" in the bag for her (she named it before we got to the store). When we got home, I set him up nicely in his new fishbowl with sand, plastic plant, and dechlorinated, room temperature water. We fed him a little bit, and I just had to take a nap. Maylin didn't like that idea, but I somehow convinced her she'd have fun showing Prince her toys. When I woke up, I discovered our table was covered with water which was quietly dripping through the middle seam to the floor and that Prince's new home was filled with various objects -- Donald Duck, the chipmunks Chip and Dale, a little elephant, a mouse, a large starfish, and a comb. Poor Prince was stuck huddling in the corner behind his fake plant. I was relieved to find him still alive. It's amazing what a three year-old can do to her fish. She must have had quite a party with him.

U.S. trip underwritten by...

the Jou family! My parents have generously offered to sponsor Maylin and my trip to the States this February. So my homesickness has disappeared. I hope I'll be able to see my friends, too, even though I'll be in Los Banos, California, most of the time. If you are in the Bay Area, I will be sending you a mass e-mail soon regarding a possible lunch in a Bay Area restaurant so I can see you -- the weekend of February 11th. See you all soon!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Sick and homesick

The holidays have passed without seeing family. Several good expat friends are returning to the States by the end of the month. Maylin and my trip to the U.S. in February has been postponed. I'm sick with a sore throat, fever, and chills. It's no surprise I'm homesick. At this moment, I feel like moving back as soon as possible.

It might be the fatigue, but I've lost much motivation for the activities I was looking forward to. My opera group...the singing competition. I just want to either cocoon in our apartment or go HOME.

My dog's kitchen phobia

A few days ago, our dog Leo stopped eating and drinking. I thought that maybe he was sick. But after some observation, I didn't find him unhealthy -- just whiney. He usually whines if we haven't given him his walk, and now he was whining after his walks. We couldn't figure it out. After a day and a half of starving himself, I tried luring him into the kitchen where his dishes were located. No goodies could tempt him. I tried dragging him in by his collar, but he was resistant, with his front paws firmly planted right before the kitchen doorway. I decided to try a little experiment. I put his dishes by the closed-off fireplace in our living room, and he drank and ate like there was no tomorrow. Poor guy.

So he's scared of the kitchen. But we have no idea why. Our kitchen is composed of a long, narrow corridor with a fridge and laundry machines leading into the actual "cuisine" where the stove, oven, dishwasher, sink, and counters are. We have theorized that he got trapped in the kitchen one time by a stepladder or laundry basket in the corridor. Or something fell on him (that's his other phobia), or Maylin closed the door on him.

We may never unravel this mystery, but I have to say, my secret wish for a clean, dog hair-free kitchen floor came true!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Be aware of what's motivating you

Yesterday, I showed one of my friends my jewelry creations and she said that some of my stuff was very sellable (around the 20 euro range) -- that what I was making was very trendy at the moment. She has a jewelry designer friend who is making lots of money right now. I was tempted for a few seconds. I like making jewelry, it's easy for me...easy cash, too? But I quickly snapped back to why I did it. Just a diversion, really. It's one of the fun things I do within my delicate balance of activities. Balance is everything to me. I know if I do too much of one thing, I get bored. It always happens. And if I'm motivated more by money than pleasure, then I know I'll become resentful and unhappy. For some people I know, money is their pleasure, so they might not have that unhappiness issue.

I guess I'm lucky I can choose between money and pure happiness...but can I really? Can most people? Maybe I have to be practical. This may be a rare opportunity to have real earning power as a creative. Shall I sacrifice that delicate balance temporarily for a more secure, financial existence? Am I willing to give up some happiness for some security? Something to think about.