Friday, June 16, 2006

Shopping on Rue de Rivoli and beyond

One of my expat friends reminded me yesterday about Rue de Rivoli when I mentioned I needed to find a dress for my brother's wedding. Just east of the Louvre, this is the place to shop and drop. Enjoy the beautiful weather as you wander from store to store, discovering lots of trendy and affordable clothing in places like Zara, Etam, and H&M. These places are a bit too fashion-forward for classic-wearing me, but younger folk love them. I overhear young women saying in French, "This is so cute," when I'm thinking, "That is so ugly." Maybe I'm just getting old and set in my ways, like my dog Leo. The Zara and the Etam are quite large, with Etam having five floors (note: there's a restroom on the fifth floor and since public restrooms are hard to come by, this is really good to know).

Walk north a little ways past many pizzerias, creperies, and other eating establishments, and you'll come across Forum des Halles, a large mall which was formerly THE Paris marketplace for around 850 years. There are so many stores and they're laid out so poorly that it can be hard to find anything if you're there for the first (or second, or third) time. But, if you're looking for women's clothing, head straight for the -3 floor and you'll find most of the pertinent stores. The H&M here is bigger than the one on Rivoli, but is extremely popular. It's best to get here right when it opens. Otherwise, you'll run into ridiculously long lines for the changing rooms and cash registers. Don't even think about shopping on a Saturday (when most Parisians shop) because that spells doom. Don't forget, many places are closed on Sundays.

I did find one dress (one!) that I liked and that looked good on me at Zara on Rivoli. Never thought I'd buy polka-dots, but here I am. Somehow, it still looks tasteful to me. And its shape is wonderfully forgiving to my figure-in-progress. Au mariage!

Doing the Monet thang

Painting outdoors. Lots of painting is happening in our little corner of the world. The weather is so incredibly perfect now that everyone seems to have the outdoor painting bug. And the beautiful French daylight is inspiring, too. Our local hardware store got its old paint stripped from its wooden facade and is getting a fresh new coat in a favorite paint color here -- white! Wonder if they'll try to copy the colors of the pharmacy next door -- white with bright green trim. I'm sure they won't try to replicate the design of the sushi restaurant around the corner -- gray and bright, light purple.

The other day, I saw who I assumed to be an art student, just sitting on the sidewalk at Place Pereire, a few feet in front of an ATM machine, sketching his interpretation of the brasserie (cafe/bar/restaurant) across the street -- not in pencil, but in paint. How bold! Two to three hours later, I passed him again and he was nearly done with his very colorful, impressionistic piece. He could probably sell it to any tourist nearby with no problem. It looked a lot like the paintings of Paris geared towards tourists sold in Montmartre at Place Tertre.

Today, as I walked down Boulevard Pereire towards Place Pereire to take the metro, I saw a man on a ladder with a white pencil, sketching the letters for a new sign outside of a tiny store selling home decor items and furniture. When I came back three and a half hours later, his hand-drawn letters were perfectly painted in yellow against a dark green background. It's so nice to see an artisan at work, doing what he does best at its required slow pace. Most places these days would probably get a machine-printed sign on canvas or plastic. Faster and cheaper. Or I guess you could pick up anyone off the street to do some stenciling. Let's save the artisans, a nearly extinct species.

Painting requires so much time and patience. I think it would be good for everyone to put on the brakes once in awhile in our fast-paced world to do something they enjoy that is slow...like cooking (microwave doesn't count), do-it-yourself home improvement projects, sewing, for example, and of course, painting. I find that slow activities, like washing dishes by hand, are often like mediation, or therapeutic. Your mind will be able to cleanse itself, and you'll find a little bit of peace -- something we all need.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Internet health research

My primary doctor right now is a general practitioner, and I'm just starting to realize I need more of a specialist in women's health -- either a gynecologist or an obstetrician. I'm filling in the gaps by doing my own research on the internet with regards to the health issues that concern me.

www.mayoclinic.com

The Mayo Clinic website is excellent -- the interface is easy to use, and you get your well-written information in economical, bite-size chunks (very little need to scroll). For the very near-sighted, you are just one-click away from a large-type version. Just start with the search engine by typing in a symptom or illness.

www.merck.com/mmhe

Merck is a pharmaceutical company, but has a very informative website for people looking for extremely thorough articles on any symptom or illness. Again, go straight to the search engine. The articles are longer and a little more difficult to digest, but you get all your bases covered. Plus, they have a handy-dandy list on the right-side of most articles to get help with pronouncing those tough medical terms.

www.webmd.com

At webmd.com, they cover a lot of different topics and it's easy to find quick answers, but it's not very enticing to me, with its glossy magazine mentality and use of third-grade level English. But, if you're a third grader, go for it! This site just scratches the surface of most issues. Go to the other sites for more in-depth background information.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I've changed

I feel a positive change has come over me, with regards to my personal interactions with my friends. I know I used to be a really good listener, but I think I had started to become a little domineering in conversations with some people. I found myself interrupting when I shouldn't, shifting to new subjects abruptly in order to not risk dropping a beat in the pace, finding my mind preoccupied with trivial matters when I should have been listening, etc. How did I get so bad? I had started becoming more self-centered, I think, and didn't realize it.

I had a good talk with a dear friend here and I learned about what's always going on in her head. She's always thinking about others. Always concerned about the welfare of her friends and how she can help out if they are in need. When I was listening to her talk, I realized that I used to be like that. When did I stop being like that? Why had I become so selfish?

That might have been a turning point for me. Now, I'm determined to try to reach out more, to see if I can be of help to the people I love. And my conversations are already a lot better. I interrupt far less and listen a lot more.

I do have a natural tendency to be selfish and self-centered which I have had to fight. When I was a child, I knew instinctively that my selfishness was not a good thing, that it was something I needed to change about myself. I knew I needed to be more giving and less possessive. I grew into a willing helper and found that helping others was more gratifying than any other activity.

But I became self-centered again as I went off to boarding school to study like crazy in preparation for college. There was almost nothing more important than my studying. In college, I loosened up enough to have room for more friends, but still, my focus was on my studies. After college, my focus was on what to do with the rest of my life -- that consumed me until I became a mother. I still think about that to some degree, but it's not a constant worry to me like it used to be.

The last few years my focus has been Maylin and learning to live in a new country. Now that life in a foreign country is no longer a struggle and is really routine, it's a good time to get back on track and in tune with what's most dear to me -- family and friends.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Musee de l'Orangerie

What a gorgeous day it was! Last week, it was so cold I was considering taking out my wool coat that I just got back from the dry-cleaner's! So, here we are in t-shirts (at last!), with friends and their kids, and we approach the Musee de l'Orangerie, which just opened on May 17 after a four-year renovation. I picked the wrong day because there is a line that is about a mile long, winding down towards the Jardins des Tuileries. Who knew these free museum days (first Sunday of each month) would be this bad? John and I went to the the front of the line to see if we would get special priority with the stroller (brought along just for the occasion because usually we can bypass museum lines with it). Nope, they knew the game we were playing and said our daughter was too old. I should have just said that she's really tall for her age. Anyways, we lined up like everybody else for about two hours, but it didn't seem to take that long -- the weather was beautiful, the kids played together, I chased them, they got fed ice cream and McDonald's, and we were in good company.

The museum is housed in an amazing neo-classical building, first constructed in the mid-1900s. The interior has been modernized, the entire roof is now made of glass allowing much natural light to pass through, and even though it's a huge building, it feels like an intimate experience when you see Monet's grand waterlily paintings upstairs and the awesome Cezanne, Renoir, Picasso, Gauguin, and Matisse downstairs.

Soon after we entered, I got in trouble twice with the same docent in the waterlilies room. Maylin and one of her friends were just starting to run away from me when the man told me the children should be either in their strollers or hold hands with a parent. Then he caught one of our charges pushing the stroller around himself soon after I left it with John. The docent started to accuse me personally, so I started defending myself in French but realized it was useless and that the solution would be to check in the stroller so we'd all have our hands free to round up the very wound-up children.

The waterlilies are stunning -- huge canvases several feet long installed in two round rooms. Monet used a lot more dry-brush strokes than I would have expected. It's cool to see all the detail up so close. How different they looked in my calendar I hung up in my dorm room in college.

I enjoyed just about everything, but especially two Cezanne pieces. One still life (I'm usually bored by them) of a pear and two apples (or was it two pears and an apple?) in various hues of green mostly, and a tender, sweet portrait of his son (again, in various hues of green -- I like green). Those were just perfect to me.

La cantine

Maylin's cantine (cafeteria) at school has cultivated in her a remarkable taste for cheese. The other day, I bought some Camembert (which can be runny and stinky) and she nearly inhaled half of this round of cheese (about five inches in diameter and an inch thick). This was a milder version from the supermarket and straight out of the fridge, but maybe next time, she can surprise me with a mouthful of the runny stuff.

At the beginning of the school year, Maylin's report of what she ate at school comprised of just "baguette and water." Gradually, it expanded to cheese. And now, she's eating fish every Friday (this is a country that still embraces its old Catholic ways of fish Fridays and days off for numerous high points of the liturgical year -- two for the month of May including Ascension and Pentecost), "orange soup," and cooked carrots!

Evidently, she's warming up to their menu, but seems to find the whole experience still rather traumatic because everyday, sometimes when she first wakes up in the morning, she will say in a pitiful way, "I don't want to go to the cantine." She even says it at night. And will say it in French and English. Her roleplaying also seems to be consumed by it with myself put in the teacher's role and Maylin as one of her classmates crying in the cantine because her mom isn't there.

So, I'm having second thoughts about signing her up for the cantine next year, even for just two days a week, but then it makes things a lot less practical for me. I wouldn't be able to take a dance class or voice lessons, or stray too far from the neighborhood for too long. In fact, it would be quite restrictive come to think of it. Perhaps she'll grow out of the fear next year.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Cold showers, no showers

In the States, I think we take water for granted. You turn on the tap, it's there. You want cold, you get cold. You want hot, you get hot. It might depend on where you live, but I remember rarely having water issues. In our building in Paris, there's always something. We've had one major kitchen leak, one small bathroom leak, new water damage to our kitchen ceiling (paint's peeling off in the corner), and annoying showers where I feel like someone is purposely trying to give me a hard time (burning hot to freezing cold and back again...on and on, with my faucet adjustments making it only temporarily bearable).

Today, the water's supposed to be completely shut off from 8 am to 12 pm for a change of all the faucets in the building. I'm holding off on my shower, but guess what -- at 9 am, John was still able to rinse his toothbrush with tap water from the sink. Being late is normal in France. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't even get around to changing our faucets today.

This isn't the first time they've shut off the water. And there have been a few more times when they've shut off just the hot water. One time, without notifying us. Is this normal apartment building living or is this France?

[Addition (June 4, 2006): Oops, I had misread the poorly designed flyer. Only hot water was off, but cold water was available. I missed the fine print, but didn't miss the huge lettering of "ARRET DE L'EAU."]