Thursday, December 2, 2010

Road rage I

I haven’t driven a car in over a decade. In Paris, you really don’t need one. The public transportation system, while far from perfect, is efficient enough to allow the city’s inhabitants to get around with relative ease. If you ask me, owning a car here is more a liability than a necessity; the streets are overcrowded, the parking cher et rare, and the security highly dubious (unless your car is made of some kind of un-keyable, un-bashable, un-burnable space material). So why bother?

Well, because cars are quite handy when one wants to travel beyond the city without having to rely on the train. And they’re good for professional purposes. And for those with young children, public transportation is not so convenient. I’m well aware of all these things. Truth be told, I’d have obtained a French driver’s license years ago if I could have. But alas, one of the (many) things that no one tells you when you move to France is that you have exactly one year from the issuing of your first residence permit in which to freely exchange your foreign driver's license for a French one. After that, it’s all over; you have to go through French driving school, complete with coursework, road lessons and a final driving test that is notoriously difficult to pass or even schedule, all for the peccadillo of €1,300 or so.

But that’s not all. You have to learn standard shift. In France, automatics are considered wimpy cars created for wimpy people who don’t know how to handle the road (Americans, in other words). Granted, plenty of my countrymen (my parents included) thumb their noses at such vicious stereotypes and embrace the stick shift. Not me. All through high school I happily zipped about in my late grandfather’s 2-door hatchback, an automatic that really hadn’t been conceived for the twisting, narrow roads of my native mountain town and thus struggled quite a bit with the steeper inclines. That didn’t matter; I was—and remain—incapable of maneuvering a stick shift. My dad courageously tried to teach me once.... I’ll leave it at that. Three pedals, three mirrors and five gears are just too many things to deal with simultaneously, even for a multi-tasker such as myself. In all honesty, I do tend to go through life with my head in the clouds—ask my 10th grade driver’s ed teacher—and one simply cannot have one’s head in the clouds while trying to drive stick. That’s why God invented the automatic.

But again, the French don’t do automatics (taxi drivers notwithstanding), or at least they’ll never admit to it. And so, if I ever intend on once more embracing the freedom of the open road, leaning into the wind at the helm of my mighty steed ... er ... whatever, then I am just going to have to grin and bear the humiliation of French driving school. Sigh. I hate being made fun of, and I will DEFINITELY be made fun of when I show up to class, a 30-something American amidst a bunch of snickering French teenagers, and proceed to demonstrate precisely how clueless I am when faced with a stick shift. “Ha ha! The old lady with the funny accent stalled the car again! Ha ha!”

But let’s just entertain the impossible for a moment and imagine that I somehow master the stick. I’d still have to face the sadistic free for all that is French motor law. Coming to a dead stop in the middle of an intersection if there’s a series of dashes running through it, for example. And whatever sick fool dreamt up the whole priorité à droite thing should be given the same sentence as Edmond Dantès. But my least favorite of all is probably the roundabout. I began calling them “death circles” the minute I arrived here and have remained true to my prejudice ever since. Those things were not meant to be negotiated by people like me.

Place de l'Etoile: where mediocre drivers go to die.
Incidentally, I’ve lived outside the Motherland long enough to no longer detain a valid US license, either. That’s right; I lack what is essentially the ID card of the average American citizen, a fact that never fails to get me into trouble when I’m home for a visit. Whether it’s writing a check (contrary to popular belief, one’s passport is not a universally accepted form of ID) or trying to buy booze, having an expired driver’s license is just a recipe for disappointment, extreme irritation and uncontrolled outbursts of anti-American sentiment quite ill befitting my generally easy-going (American) nature. I should really look into renewal one of these days, but with all the administrative hoop-jumping I already have to do as a French resident, I simply cannot accept the notion of also having to stand in line at the DMV. I’ve paid at the proverbial office, non? They should just SEND me a new one as a token of goodwill between fellow Americans. But in the meantime, I cannot legally get behind the wheel of a car in America or France, or for that matter any country requiring a (valid) driver’s license.

Which brings me to my next point. I discovered a few years back that having a French permit is not necessarily the sine qua non of legal vehicular operation in France. As early as the 1970s, European lawmakers went and approved the circulation of 2-person, permit-free cars. That’s right, cars that any idiot can cruise around in without ever having set foot in driver’s ed. Bizarrely, none of my French friends finds this blatantly criminal at all. “But the cars can only go 45 kilometers per hour!” they laugh. Right. Quick math quiz: A permit-free car traveling at 45 km per hour is heading south on la rue du Piéton mort. At the same time, another permit-free car moving at the same speed is heading north on the same road. A few seconds before the moment when the two cars meet, a small child goes running into the street between them, chasing after his ballon rouge.... What are the chances that anybody will walk away unharmed? I say, people without permits should limit their driving pleasure to Disneyland's Autopia and not go careening about on real roads, risking multiple lives behind the wheel of permit-free cars. I mean, just look at these things:

Just this side of a rickshaw.
I seem to recall having seen a similar contraption in a long-ago episode of Family Matters. And while at the time it appeared perfectly appropriate for the iconic nerd Steven Urkel to be driving one, today plenty of perfectly normal French men and women zip about in them without a second thought. On the other hand, in a country that fully embraces the Smart car as a credible—nay, even somewhat fashionable!—form of transportation, I suppose the permit-free car’s relative popularity should come as a shock to no one.

Thus, it appears that the only remaining option to my driving conundrum is to win the lottery and hire a personal chauffeur. I rather like this approach, which would offer the additional benefit of freeing me forever from early morning/late night dependence on Parisian taxis, whose dubious reputation is worthy of an entirely separate blog entry. A chauffeur it is, then. I shall leave driving school to the peons.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The revery alone will do

The daughter of two Self Realization Fellowship devotees, I try to avoid hating any living thing. Surely some good can be found in everyone; surely the divine spark is always there, even if buried far, far within. Actually, that’s not true; I openly detest entire categories of living things, most of which fall into the insect family. Namely spiders, mosquitoes and my arch nemesis: the yellowjacket.

Imagine yourself, on a sunny summer’s day, out to enjoy a delicious picnic on a lush green lawn. You roll out your blanket and arrange the succulent contents of your lovingly prepared picnic basket about you, marveling at the simple goodness of life. Only, no sooner have you begun to savor your joyous summer fare than a yellowjacket comes buzzing angrily into your face, desiring to steal a bite of your meal and threatening you with the prospect of a painful sting/bite/whatever. Then, another shows up. And another. Swatting at them does no good; it only seems to make them angrier. Ugh! Your moment of peaceful enjoyment has been ruined by an unwelcome horde of dangerous, ugly insects. How désagréable.

Let me be clear: I DESPISE yellowjackets. I see one, and my inner “irritation-o-meter” instantaneously rockets from “zen” to “apoplectic.” If I could, I would have every last one of the beastly creatures eliminated, and deal with the karma in my next life (no doubt as a yellowjacket).

I don’t understand those who blithely say, “Oh, just ignore them. They’re harmless.” Harmless?! Seriously? These people obviously have not entirely exited childhood and still think that insects are our friends. Sorry folks; yellowjackets—alias meat bees—are out to kill. They and their horrible little chewing mandibles are the very face of evil. The number of barbecues, picnics, outdoor cocktails and miscellaneous happy moments around the world that have been ruined because of these devilish fiends defies the imagination.

To those who still require convincing, allow me to offer an anecdote. At the tender age of 9, I took part, as I did every year, in that great American institution, summer camp. I always loved summer camp and dearly hope that I can find its equivalent in France for my future Franco-American children; without it, I fear that their personal development will suffer from the absence of kumbayas, handmade crafts and morning chapel that I so cherished throughout my youth.

So there I was at Special Buddy Camp on a fine summer afternoon, engaged in a game of water balloon toss with a group of my fellow campers. The brightly colored balloons glistened in the sunlight, droplets of water bounced to and fro, our innocent laughter rang in the air.... And then, pain. Excruciating, red-hot pain shooting through my inner thigh. OWWWW! I had been savagely stung by a rogue yellowjacket that had landed on me unannounced and uninvited. No good reason was to be had, either: we had no food nearby, nor was I wearing any kind of potentially tasty-smelling sunscreen. No, the wretched beast had landed on my delicate skin with the sole purpose of inflicting wanton suffering.

To make matters worse, my mother’s resolutely holistic approach to healing resulted in her rapid arrival armed with a giant red onion, which she proceeded to cut into round slices and tape—tape!—to my thigh. I was suddenly not only the girl who had gotten stung, but the girl who smelled like onions AND had a crazy mother. In a camp half composed of handicapped children, I had somehow managed to become the “special” one.

Little did I realize this was only the beginning; the damn things being an international source of misery, France has plenty of them as well. Why, only yesterday I was sitting on a bench in a park near my job, enjoying my take-away lunch in the late October sun while nourishing my soul with a book by Thich Nhat Hanh. It was a perfect moment of zenitude:

Breathing in, I calm my body. 
Breathing out, I smile. 
Dwelling in the present moment, 
I know this is a wonderful mo— AGGHHH!

Out of nowhere came an enormous yellowjacket, buzzing not at my food but at my person. Tossing my short-lived moment of zen out the proverbial window, I leapt to my feet and proceeded to do the exact opposite of what Thich Nhat Hanh would have done, flailing purse and book wildly about and unleashing a virulent stream of profanity that did not go unnoticed by my bemused fellow park-goers. I’d say that my journey toward enlightenment is far from finished.

If France has yellowjackets, then it must also have those wonderful gooey traps with which to kill them. I know what I’m doing this weekend. Enlightenment can wait.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Won't you be my neighbor? Part I

Parisian apartments have thin walls. In the case of older dwellings, this often stems from the division at some point over the last century of what were once large bourgeois family apartments into multiple smaller, separate ones, which Parisian landlords today rent out for a small fortune each. Sound insulation between the now separate residences was—and has remained—virtually nonexistent. Thus, what goes on in the apartments on either side of one’s own is generally perfectly audible, and more or less easy to live with depending on who the neighbors are, what kinds of noises they tend to make and what time they tend to make them.

But the walls aren’t all; Parisian apartments also have thin ceilings. Coupled with the frequent presence of hardwood floors, what goes on above one’s apartment is almost as difficult to ignore as what goes on on either side of it. This all adds up to the average apartment dweller being exceedingly well aware of the most intimate details of the personal lives and habits of those who live all around him, while not actually knowing any of them. A kind of box, if you will, of uninvited intimacy with people who are just this side of strangers.

In Paris, apartment neighbors tend to not know each other from Adam, which is perfectly fine by them. I mean, why bother? You will NEVER see a Parisian knocking on a neighbor’s door to request a spare egg or a cup of sugar, or to pop in for a spontaneous chat. Instead, it’s the opposite: they pretty much avoid each other like the plague. Stairwell encounters are particularly undesirable. Thus, if you are getting ready to go out, and you hear a neighbor’s door opening, you wait. Once the coast is clear, and the risk of having to make pesky, time-consuming small talk is gone, then you can venture out. Not before. 

G. and I live in just such an apartment. We don’t know many of the other people in the building, despite its relatively small size, but this is obviously normal. Besides, the lack of intimacy between ourselves and 85% of our neighbors is more than accounted for by the extreme intimacy we cannot help but share with the remaining 15%. Take the couple living above us, for example: their lives are an open book of sound that never fails to draw our attention because really, what choice is there?

At 7:00 am, they(?) are in the bathtub splashing water about and brushing their teeth. We can actually hear the brushing. At around 9:00 am, clomp clomp clomp! The perpetually high-heel-shod girlfriend comes tramping down the wooden stairwell. At 7:00 pm, she comes tramping home, jangles her keys into the door, opens and slams it shut behind her, tromps over to what I assume is the bed, removes her heels, which she lets drop—BAM! BAM!—to the floor, and then, all is relatively silent. Until after dinner, that is, when either she puts the latest Mika single on perpetual repeat, or she and her boyfriend get into a shouting match. They tend to intersperse their shouting with what sounds like rearranging their living room furniture.

Then there’s our next-door neighbor, whose noises are almost as bizarre. He is an elegant Japanese man in his late 40s, very well-dressed and polite. But once inside his apartment, things get very weird. He has this answering machine whose volume must be set on “hearing impaired” because when the thing picks up, we hear the entire message as though it were being screamed through our wall. Then, the machine starts beeping at 5-second intervals to notify our neighbor that he has a message. In the beginning, when we had just moved in and hadn’t grasped that beep = answering machine, he left on vacation for an entire week. Lots of people called him during that time: BEEP BEEP BEEP, all week long. I thought he had installed some kind of heavy-duty medical equipment or an industrial security alarm. This neighbor is also in a “complicated” relationship ... with a 20-something Brazilian male fashion model, who spends his days drinking and slamming the front door. Sometimes I run into him in the stairwell as he staggers down, hiccuping. I really need to work on my neighbor avoidance skills.

Anyway, not to JUDGE or anything, but this is the reality of Parisian apartment life. And yeah, we certainly contribute our share of noise as well. I’d even be willing to bet that we’ve irritated the hell out of our neighbors on countless occasions with our tromping around, vacuuming, vibrating laundry machine, long phone calls in English and noisy dinner parties. Plus I’m a bit clumsy and have been known to drop heavy objects on the floor, sometimes in the middle of the night. This is why there is never any open conflict in the building: we all accept that being auditory witnesses to each other’s daily goings-on is normal. And in the face of the cold anonymity of city life, maybe it does us all some good to be somewhat in touch with other people, however bizarrely.

Friday, September 17, 2010

In loving memory

I have recently suffered a loss in the family; I don’t know if I can technically call it a being, but I do tend to “bond” with my material possessions to such an extent that they almost seem to have a soul. I know there’s a term for this (other than “insanity”). Ah yes, anthropomorphism. What did people do before Google? Seriously?

So the family member in question is my late Samsung E840 Candy Pink telephone, which I purchased back in the foggy, innocent days of spring 2008. At the time, I was looking to change mobiles and fell in love with the sleek lines and sexy color of this little slider. The fact that it was quite similar to G.’s own maroon version added a certain extra touch of “buy me” seductiveness. So I bought it.

Having tested multiple phone brands in the past, trial and error had proven Nokia to be the most worthy of living in my purse. Nevertheless, I took a chance on this Samsung because, well, it was so preeeeetty. Sadly, what it boasted in physical beauty it sorely lacked in inner depth. For one, it offered but a shadow of the gadgety personalization options I’d come to so appreciate from Nokia, and two, its texting configuration was an absolute disaster. It steadfastly refused to be taught any new words, and for my franglais texting needs, this was unacceptable. But it had a nice built-in camera and worked just fine as an actual phone, so in the end I figured it could stay.

For years, the two of us built up a certain complicity: Katrin and her fuchsia phone! Despite our rocky beginnings, we came to become all but inseparable. The phone’s memory stored my friends’ numbers and G.’s loving text messages; the calculator function made dividing up the tab after group dinners a breeze; the camera function had my back whenever my real camera ran out of power; the alarm function gently woke me every morning with the song “Paul Simon” by the Russian Futurists. On a side note, I would have preferred a song called “Russian Futurists” by Paul Simon, but whaddya do?

So life was bliss … until, on a Friday night just a few weeks ago, G. proposed that we see the movie “Inception” at the UGC cinema near Opéra. We settled into our seats and as usual, I put my purse by my feet. Now, I’ve always had a little voice in my head that has whispered, “Watch out, someone behind you could just reach under your chair and nab that purse right out from under it!” but I have always brushed off said voice because hey, what kind of an evil person would do THAT?

I’ll tell you what kind. The kind that slips into a theater at 11:00 pm and pretends to watch the movie when really, they just want to take your stuff. So the long and the short of it is this: some punk kids behind us managed to get their greasy little hands into my purse and steal my cell phone right out of it without my noticing a thing until they were long gone. I know this because when we called the number later on—you know, just to be sure—they answered. Morons. I’m lucky they didn’t take my whole damn purse, but that’s beside the point.

I’ve had run-ins with the Dark Side of Paris before, and each time I’ve come away thinking that the city loves me a little less, which is truly sad. It’s an awful feeling knowing that some ne’er-do-well has a cherished belonging that only minutes before was sitting safely in your care, even when it’s something as insignificant as a phone. I liked this little phone of mine, all the more so for the years of saved texts from G., virtual messages having long replaced the written love letter among us Gen Y-ers.

But let’s put this into perspective: it’s not the end of the world. I suppose I should take it as a lesson on the need for greater general awareness, or even as an opportunity for spiritual growth! Are we not supposed to store up our treasures in heaven, where thieves cannot break in and steal? Well, yeah, but … I’m an incorrigible materialist! It’s MY phone and as such, should be in MY hot little hands and no one else’s! Grrrrrrr.

However, time heals all wounds, and one week of mourning was really all I could give. Try as I might, I simply cannot lead a balanced existence without a phone/alarm/camera/converter/calculator. So I HAD to go out and get a replacement. Not considering myself to be “cool” enough for an iPhone (yet), I settled on the next best thing: a smart phone—by Nokia—which even pays homage to my departed Samsung with a nice fuchsia exterior. So everyone’s happy: my service provider, for coercing me into another 24-month contract in exchange for the phone; G., for once again being able to reach me during the day; and of course myself, for having what is quite frankly an awesome piece of technology AND just so happens to be beautiful on the outside as well as on the inside. But if you think I’m letting it out of my sight for more than 2 seconds, think again! No you can’t hold it! It’s mine, I tell you, miiiiiiiiiine!

R.I.P. - May 15, 2008 - September 4, 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Terminal

So you know that remark I made a few months back about how I thought that my heretofore bad luck in the travel department might be changing? I, um, take it back.

I’ve just returned from two lovely weeks of vacation in the US, and while the trip itself was everything I had hoped it would be, the travel to and from was anything but. Now, as I have stated in the past, I have this thing with horrific airport scenarios. I miss my flight, my luggage disappears for days on end, weather leaves me sleeping on a bench in a deserted terminal.... One would think that such nightmares would leave me stronger, wiser—much in the way of a seasoned war general. By all rights, I should be the General Patton of air travel.

Alas, no. Not only do I seem to attract highly regrettable travel mishaps, but my subconscious stubbornly refuses to learn from its mistakes, thus leading to multiple repeats of said travel mishaps. Let’s take the example of G. and my return flight from San Diego to Paris on August 21, which set a new record in my already outstanding history of trips that could best be summed up by an emphatic “Oh, fuuuuuuuuuuuu....”

Let me first say that in hindsight, we were kind of asking for it. Our two-week holiday was actually composed of two separate round-trip tickets: one from Paris to Boston, where we spent the first few days, and the other from Boston to San Diego, where we spent the rest. Both legs involved a layover: Reykjavik for the first, Houston for the second. And yes, I realize that I once said I would never go to Iceland, but can’t the occasional blatant lie be considered a péché mignon? Anyway, at least I now know that the cold, cratered surface of the moon is not limited to the moon itself.

Now, in the case of our return flight, we had to do all of that again, only in reverse and all in the same day. That is to say, San Diego to Dallas (no, not Houston this time, just for a wee bit of extra fun); Dallas to Boston; Boston to Reykjavik; Reykjavik to Paris. And as if that weren’t enough, the next morning G. was due back at the airport bright and early in order to fly to Crete for an additional week with his family. Got all that? Do you think we were already screwed even before heading to the airport?

Up at the crack (and I mean the CRACK) of dawn, we got to San Diego Lindbergh Field more or less on time, checked in, paid the $25 x 2 baggage fee (damn you, American Airlines!) and thought we were all set. No one was in the security line and we still had a good 30 minutes prior to boarding. Sensing the all-too-familiar lump of separation anxiety rising in my throat, I thought that a quick coffee with my parents before flying back to my home halfway around the world would be perfectly reasonable. *Wry smile*

Coffee consumed, we returned to the security line, which now had the equivalent of three airplanes worth of people waiting in it. And by the time that my foggy brain realized just how much trouble we were in, it was too late. Why? Because as I always manage to forget, major US airlines aren’t nice. They don’t want to hear your excuses; it’s not their problem. Either you are at the gate RIGHT when it opens, or you’re up that well-known creek without a paddle. And as we were at the gate 10 minutes after it opened, that was the end for us. (Little matter that there was a good quarter of an hour remaining before the indicated departure time and the plane was parked. Right. There.)

And here is where I clamber onto my pro-European soap box and say that with all due respect, this policy is bullsh*t. In all of my travels, which are never any better organized in Europe than they are in the US, not once have I been faced with a closed gate 15 minutes early and a smug airline rep telling me that she has been paging me repeatedly for the last half hour (riiiiiight) and that now it is just too damn bad. Never. And don’t you dare go citing tight schedules and TSA regulations because I’m not buying it. Iceland Air lets people still board freaking 10 minutes after its official departure time and do you know what comes of it? Nothing, nothing at all (score one for Iceland).

But this wasn’t Iceland Air we were dealing with, but American f-ing Airlines. And from that moment, G. and I were faced with two possibilities:
  • Worst case scenario: we remain “stuck” in the US, unable to find room on any other flights because everything is booked, pay an absolute fortune in new ticket fees, hotels, absent days from work, etc., and G. misses out on a week of vacation with his family in Crete, to which he had been looking forward for months and months. And I bear the guilt of it forever.
  • Best case scenario: we catch a magical string of standby flights and make it to Boston just in time to catch the original flight to Paris as planned; G. goes to Crete; I am cleared of all charges.
So there we were, standing white-faced and panic-stricken before a closed gate. In AA’s defense, the representative did take pity on me once she had accepted the fact that I had not intentionally caused us to “miss” the flight (or maybe she was just embarrassed by my sobbing like a little girl). As such, she was willing to give the two of us stand-by tickets for the next one to Dallas and from there to Boston, which if all went well, would theoretically still allow us to make the connecting Paris flight by the skin of our collective Franco-American teeth. But that depended on there being enough room on both standby flights and on both flights being totally on time. Meanwhile, our bags had left without us (remind me again about those TSA regulations...?). As to where they would land, no one knew for sure. Boston if we were lucky, Dallas if we weren’t (just ask JFK).

As it turned out, the first standby to Dallas was full, so we had to wait for the second. The second one let us on, but the Boston leg announced forty-five minutes of delay, thus immediately killing any and all chances of making the Paris connection. We did all we could to avoid despair: called Iceland Air (closed), tried to buy new tickets (sold out), interrogated various airline reps (95% unhelpful), prayed. A LOT.

And you know what? While the first three strategies yielded nothing, that last one did. In the end, we made it onto the Boston standby; the pilot somehow got us to the gate only 8 minutes late and not 45; our bags really had arrived on an earlier flight and were simply waiting for us to grab them in the baggage claim area; we caught an airport shuttle to the international terminal almost immediately, and by racing down the hallway we made it to the Paris check-in just minutes before it closed, where the rep at the counter murmured under her breath, “Just in time.” We gave her our bags, ran through security and MADE THE FLIGHT. Sinking into our seats and breathing the biggest sigh of relief of our lives, we immediately bought two glasses of wine and toasted to real-life miracles. Now if that wasn’t a personal intervention by God Himself, I’ll eat my hat. I’ll eat everyone’s hats. It was actually quite humbling, because as holy priorities go, I’m sure we weren’t anywhere near the top.

Lesson learned: when in the US, NEVER %#@! AROUND WITH BOARDING TIMES. G. was so traumatized by the experience that he actually took a taxi to the airport the next morning for his Crete flight just to play it safe (G. never takes taxis)! He texted me later to say that he was in fact early for the flight and didn’t know how to deal with it. And I am back to my Paris life, so thankful to even be here that I will say nothing about next week’s scheduled public sector strikes. I mean, I could be sleeping on a bench in the Dallas/Boston/Lunar airport right now, waiting for a miracle. But the miracle came right when we needed it the most, as miracles tend to do. No air travel for this girl until December, and even then I think I’ll show up to the airport a full day early. That is if I can even find an acceptable airline. Between AA’s shenanigans, Continental’s frequent last-minute cancellations and United’s well-known penchant for breaking guitars, what’s an expat to do?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Who let the dogs out?

I had another dog dream last night. Or to specify, I dreamed in a perfectly surreal fashion of obtaining a puppy, which has been a goal of mine for quite some time now. Searching for meaning, I typed “dog” into an online dream analyzer and discovered that dogs in the dream world symbolize “intuition, loyalty, generosity, protection and fidelity.” Further, dreaming of them “suggests that your strong values and good intentions will enable you to go forward in the world and bring you success.” Right on. But between us, I think it means that I just really want a dog.

Paris today counts some 200,000 chiens for some 2.2 million Parisians, which is actually only 11%. Why, then, does the pitter-patter of little paws feel so omnipresent in this city? Perhaps due to the canine calling cards for which Parisian streets are so well known, which, in addition to the sight of people strolling the perpetrators, accounts for the resolutely “top of mind” position enjoyed by the French pooch. In any case, I want one: preferably small and fluffy, with a gentle disposition and minimal amount of shedding. I have several models in mind: Shih Tzu, Tibetan Spaniel, Chihuahua....

But realistically speaking, it probably isn’t going to happen; my innocent desire to own an adorable, adoring little ball of fluff is counterbalanced by my overactive conscience, which knows better. One, both G. and I work full-time. Two, having grown up in the country, I am keenly aware that there are places far better suited for dogs, children and other small, innocent beings than la jungle urbaine. Were we to actually go out and buy a dog, the poor dear would be left all alone in our Paris-size (read: teeny) apartment from dawn till dusk, pining away for its masters while more fortunate dogs romp and frolic in the great outdoors as nature intended. There is of course a park nearby, but dogs generally don’t walk themselves, and we naturally have no back yard—only a typical Parisian balcony with lacy iron railings that may be a delightful place for humans, but would by no means provide our would-be dog with an acceptable, safe alternative to the great outdoors. Hélas!

Never having been one to accept seeing my desires rebuffed, I remain hopeful that there is a solution out there. But unfortunately, no matter what privileges Parisian dogs enjoy, accompanying their masters to work on a daily basis is not one of them. So for the moment, I see no answer … although I do have an idea: the arrival a few years ago of the now well-known, DIY bike rental service known as Vélib’ (a fusion of the words vélo or “bike,” and libre or “free”) got me thinking that this approach could possibly be applied to other public-use domains. With Vélib’ one can rent a bike for a paltry €1 from any of the hundreds of open air bike stations scattered across the city and enjoy it for up to 30 minutes, at which point the bike must simply be returned to the closest station in exchange for a fresh one, and so on and so forth.

Now, call me crazy (everyone else does), but why not develop a system of short-term dog rentals based on the same concept as Vélib’? Imagine a series of small pet stores offering 1-hour, half-day or full-day dog rentals. You’d show up, select the dog and leash of your choice, and off the two of you would go! When your time was up, you would simply return the dog to the closest pet store and take out another one. This would allow busy Parisians to enjoy such dog-owning pleasures as weekend romps, evening strolls and games of catch in the park, while effectively eliminating the less pleasant aspects, such as trips to the vet, workday dog-abandonment guilt and the dubious pleasure of removing fur from the couch with rolled-up Scotch tape.

Problem solved! I will pen a letter to Sarkozy tomorrow; I imagine that putting Chienlib’ into effect will provide him with a nice change from juggling retirement reform, campaign contribution scandals and that whole soccer thing.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Drug abuse

Ah, early summer in Paris. The trees are green, the flowers are blooming, the sun is (occasionally) shining and it is time at last to give those winter clothes that I cannot bear to look at another minute to the Children of Madagascar. Away with the heater, away with the sub-arctic-strength comforter—warm weather is just around the corner!

However, there is that one last hurdle standing between me and the long-awaited summer months: allergy season. From the first to the last day of June, I am an absolute mess of allergy rage. I don’t know which pollen is the culprit, but every year it happens like clockwork. And every year entire forests disappear because of my pathological Kleenex consumption.

Now, considering that Paris has a number of corner pharmacies sufficient to reassure even the most resolute hypochondriacs, one would THINK that I could get my hands on an over-the-counter anti-histamine with relative ease. Mais non! The French may pop medication like skittles, but if you ask me, it is flat-out wimpy medication. As a friend of mine once said, giving French anti-allergy pills to someone like me is like giving sugar to a coke head.

But this year is going to be different. This year I had the foresight to stock up on good ol’ American allergy relief pills while home for Christmas. Yay! And so, on the eve of another Paris June, I look unflinchingly upon all that new greenery sending billowing clouds of pollen my way and say, bring it on.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Working 9 to 5

People often ask me about the differences between the French workplace and the American one. At this, I generally laugh and say that I have no idea, since my entire professional life thus far has been spent in Paris. I was reminded of this fact again yesterday, when a former university classmate of mine, who has recently taken a job in Paris, made the remark that “working in France is ... different.” I think she meant “different” in the same sense as, “Wow, your new hairstyle is ... different.” As in, she is less than enthusiastic about it. I find this interesting, as I have often wondered where I would be today had I never moved to Europe and instead gone to work for an American company (or more likely taken an underpaid but spiritually fulfilling position in an art museum. But who can say?).

I suppose the French workplace must be quite different from the American one, simply by virtue of the fact that there are so many differences in general between the two cultures. Prior to finding my current position in a design agency, I worked for an art gallery, a publishing house/medical conference organizer and a wine brand. Each experience left me thinking that I must have an insanity magnet hidden somewhere in my body, as the sheer quantity of absurdity that went on in each workplace was enough to warrant an entire book (note that). Of course, I never thought that said insanity could possibly have anything to do with the company’s origins, but after typing “mental health in France” into Google, I perhaps should have.

However, I am ill-placed to compare respective degrees of mental stability in the office, for like I said, I have acquired basically zero true professional experience in the US (notwithstanding various campus jobs, internships and summer gigs involving potpourri and dried fruit wreaths, which while fulfilling in their own way, do not count). What I am fairly sure of is that the working hours, the paid vacation and the whole sexual harassment thing are three major differences between the two countries that I can name without needing to have worked in both.

Working hours: depending on the contract, the average French person is supposed to work either 35 hours per week, or 35+ in return for paid overtime and/or extra holidays. Some of us somehow have neither, but it’s illegal and—actually, let’s not go there. Compare this with the 46 hours worked on average in the United States.

Paid vacation: the French get five weeks or more. That is a biiiiiiig plus about working here. Biiiiiig. I shant rub it in more than that.

As for sexual harassment, what an American would consider questionable to flat-out unacceptable remarks, language and physical contact are all perfectly normal to the French, as far as my experience is concerned. I’ve witnessed innumerable examples, in all kinds of companies and circumstances, and it never seems to shock anybody (not even me—I’ve been here too long). Moreover, disapproving remarks along the lines of, “You could go to prison for that in the States” only receive laughter and snide remarks involving the word “Puritans.” Trust me, I know.

So in conclusion, I don’t think the differences are significant. Salaries on average are lower in France than in the US, but French social benefits are so much higher that the difference in pay is pretty much accounted for (so when my heart stops beating after receiving my income tax, at least my stay at the hospital will be free!). The vacation is wonderful, the hours are decent and an admiring male eye isn’t systematically grounds for offense (is he hot?). Maybe I will one day discover what it is to work for an American company and see first-hand all the differences that I have thus far ignored. But considering my plans to become independently wealthy within the next 5 years and never work for anyone ever again, I think it’s a moot point.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


While getting ready to go to work this morning, I tuned in as usual to my favorite radio station, Europe 1. And in so doing, I learned that the Icelandic volcano Fjfqkdfkmdfjdslkf has intensified its eruptions, ensuring continued air travel mayhem. Sorry, I mean volcano Eyjafjallajokull.

While millions of travelers are cursing angry mother nature, I for one am selfishly thankful that for once I am not caught in the midst of it. I have a horrendous record of travel mishaps, be they by air, land or sea, and I wonder whether, by this, my own luck might not be shifting in that department. I’ll get a chance to test my theory in about a month, although if this unpronounceable volcano continues to belch monstrous clouds of noxious ash into the air then maybe not.

Volcanoes have always scared the living hell out of me. When I was little, I remember watching a National Geographic special on the ancient city of Pompeii: its customs, its art, its people and especially, its horrific annihilation by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. To this day, images of fossilized skeletons in the fetal position still pop into my mind whenever I hear about erupting volcanoes. As I grew up in the mountains, with a particularly large one visible right outside of my family’s living room window, the story of Pompeii’s tragic demise took roughly five seconds to convince my seven-year-old imagination that that juggernaut across the way—whose name just so happens to be Volcan—was a sleeping Vesuvius II and that it was only a matter of time before we all ended up like those poor wretches of antiquity. In reality, Volcan Mountain is not actually a volcano, but try explaining that nuance to a child who has just been subjected to this. Thank you, National Geographic.

I actually went to Naples last October, and despite being assured that there was no immediate reason to worry that Vesuvius would spontaneously awaken and kill everyone within a 12 km radius during my brief stay, I can’t say that I felt particularly at ease with its menacing silhouette bearing down on the city, either. Nor was I terribly disappointed to “not have the time” to visit Pompeii itself, and this despite my fascination with ancient history. What can I say? Mother nature will always have the last word, so maybe it’s best to just stay out of her way. Look at how this current eruption has taken the intricately choreographed ballet that is modern air traffic engineering and transformed it into thousands of grounded flights, legions of apoplectic travelers living out their own personal versions of The Terminal, and all manner of hand-wringing, finger-pointing and name-calling from governments, travel authorities and airline executives across the planet. It makes me think that all those disaster movies that I generally snub are probably fairly accurate in their depiction of the world’s reaction should anything TRULY serious happen (alien invasion, for example). It would probably be pure chaos.

But let’s look at the bright side. Aliens probably won’t attack us any time soon, and in a couple of weeks the international air space will probably be back to normal. And I bet trips to Iceland will be REALLY CHEAP for quite some time. Not that I’d go. Shudder.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Le jour de gloire est arrivé

Update: strike everything that followsI have no fingerprints. That’s right, no fingerprints. The FBI says so, which means no dual citizenship for me until further notice. On the other hand (which has no prints either), this could ultimately be a good thing. After all, do I really want to be beholden to TWO governmentsregardless of where I liveforever? Not so much. Maybe I’ll just stick with residency, which has almost all the perks of citizenship, and then take to a life of international crime cuz hey—no fingerprints (*cackle*).

Big news: I have decided to request French nationality (!!!). It promises to be a lengthy and complex process, which will take roughly 18 months and involve all manner of new and ever-so-slightly daunting paperwork, but I feel that the time has come. I have lived in this fine country for over 8 years now, have fought very hard to continue to do so, and it is time to take my relationship with France to the next level. As I recently discovered (otherwise I probably would have done this sooner), dual citizenship is allowed by both the United States and France, and as my heart belongs to both countries, it is only natural that I have two passports, is it not? Then at last I will be able to vote in French national elections and can quit bellyaching about taxation without representation (as you may recall, we Americans have long-standing issues with such things).

However, regardless of my extensive experience in wading through bureaucratic mires, jumping through administrative hoops and slashing through red tape, I admit to being just a TAD nervous about this request for citizenship. I mean, the government could very well say non—although I don’t see why it would—plus it is definitely going to require a lot of paper-lassoing, including a hand-written request for a background check by the FBI and various birth certificates decorated with scary-sounding additional stamps and seals (which I will then have to have translated at horrendous pricesnote to self: become a certified legal translator and retire early). But my mind is made up: I’m going for it. My love for France began at the tender age of 14 with that first high school French class, when I took the play name of Brigitte (much to my mother’s dismay) and learned to conjugate my first -er verbs. Now, 16 years—16 years!—later, I find it poetic and perfectly fitting to become a bona fide French citizen, and in so doing create a very far-reaching branch of the Holt family tree that no one saw coming. I love that.

Stay tuned. The day that, God willing, I receive dual citizenship, there will definitely be a champagne-filled celebration to remember.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Zen and the art of grocery shopping

Today I would like to discuss one of my favorite activities—grocery shopping. I’m serious. Wandering the aisles of the local supermarket has always afforded me a peace of mind akin to that of a long stroll through a flower garden, or the silent contemplation of raked gravel. In college, when most of my fellow student-types were off engaging in more conventional forms of decompression, I could often be found lingering in the aisles of the local grocery store, collecting my thoughts while hunting for exotic sauces. Zen meditation or supermarket cruising—both do wonders for my sense of inner calm.

Land of food, France and its grocery kingdom were just waiting for my arrival. When I first moved here, I couldn’t get enough of grocery shopping—which was inconvenient considering I was living with a host family and had no refrigerator of my own, but that is beside the point. All I knew at the time was that in France the grapes looked different, the cucumbers looked different, the yogurt aisle was like something out of a dream ... and they had this crazy system where you weighed your own produce and printed out your own little labels with the prices right on them! How exciting! Now, many years later, I admit that the element of novelty has worn off (yeah, yeah, so the zucchini are round), but I still love to grocery shop.

The funny thing is that whereas in the beginning I celebrated all the new, strange and wondrous things that I could find and buy in French supermarkets (fromage blanc, for example, or liqueur de litchi, or pâtes d'Alsace...), today I get excited when I stumble across beloved “American” items that I had assumed I would never see on this side of the Atlantic. I’m thinking baby carrots; I’m thinking Special K; I’m thinking SMOOTHIES. Yes, after long years of bitterly lamenting their absence, my craving for pureed fruit drinks can at last be appeased—smoothies are now an accepted member of the French supermarket club. Thank you, Tropicana. In fact, smoothies have garnered quite a following in Paris. And what with the bagel bar that has recently sprung up next to my office, I feel nearly as though I’m at home in SoCal (well, kinda).

So my question now is: what on earth are smoothie shops like Jamba Juice and Surf City Squeeze waiting for? It is high time for them to go French. And before you get all up in my grill for advocating chain stores and industrial food and all that everyone loves to hate about America, I’d like to point out that this is no longer 1930 and France has so many of its own chain stores that no one bothers to do any hand-wringing over the presence of big, mean Starbucks anymore. Simply take a stroll along the Boulevard des Italiens in the center of Paris and THEN let’s discuss chain eateries. Or take a gander at the zones commerciales peppering the provinces. Honestly, France requires zero help from the US to go franchise. Hence my dream of opening a Bath and Body Works here and retiring at age 40, because believe me, all they need to do is tone down a bit of that cutesy barn look they have going and French women will be all over them. Witness Sephora, the Body Shop and Yves Rocher. Creams and lotions are of international interest. Much like round zucchini.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Well, I survived the ski trip. But I think I have only the brevity of my séjour to thank for that! For as I predicted, I proved beyond any possible doubt that when I say “I’m awful at skiing,” it is not what the French would dub “2nd degree” (tongue-in-cheek) humor. I have bruises in places I didn’t know could be bruised, muscle aches in muscles I didn’t know I had. Taking the stairs at this point is pure agony, but I did it. I skied the Alps. Or more accurately, I slid down the Alps on my face.

My introduction to le ski was brief but intense, all the more so for having gone with G.’s family
—both nombreuse and particularly, how shall I say, exuberant. Being virtually the only girl in the pack, I had to make do with a decidedly masculine, “sink or swim” approach to a choice selection of activities: snow hiking, cross-country skiing and some bizarre form of postmodern sledding involving thin, plastic contraptions vaguely resembling over-sized shovel heads. Zooming down the snowy forest trails we went on these things, narrowly avoiding violent collision with tree trunks and terrified children. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned inner tubes?

And as for the cross-country, that too was lost in translation. Somewhere in my life I had managed to develop the obviously erroneous impression that this alternative form of skiing was “easy
—in the sense that it didn’t involve big gnarly descents—but oh ho ho! Whatever was I thinking? The uphill segments were just fine: no falling over, just a bit of slipping and sliding. But alas, what goes up must come down, and those segments were most assuredly not just fine. Thank God I sprained both of my ankles back in high school, because that endowed them with an elasticity that kept me from doing any serious harm to myself when I fell over … and over … and over … and over, on down the hill, twisting them in all directions because cross-country skis stay on no matter what. Who on earth invented this sadistic, ridiculously hard-to-learn sport? The jury is going to have to seriously deliberate before delivering a verdict on any hope for a possible Katrin Goes Skiing, the Sequel.

At least I was able to experience the singular beauty of the snow-adorned Alps and the extreme pleasure of returning to a Paris several degrees warmer than the one I had left. Rainy, of course, but definitely warmer. Dare we speculate that spring is somewhere nearby? I for one certainly want to. Not that spending my evenings cuddling with the radiator isn’t fun and all, but I have fond memories of days gone by when I could actually sit outside, on the balcony, and not even shiver! Ha ha! Or were those but the wild imaginings of my sun-deprived brain? Paris weather often brings back memories of reading Ray Bradbury’s short story “All Summer in a Day,” although the comparison is not entirely fair on my part; I should also point out that Parisian weather patterns are perfectly capable of swinging 180° in the other direction, resulting in record-breaking heat waves and extreme fan shortages such as that of 2003. Great year for French wine, incidentally. Rungis food market, on the other hand,
will never be the same.

In any case, my skiing ordeal is over; here I am, back in Paris, snuggled up on the couch with a cocktail in hand, jazz in the background, and the extended edition DVD of Lord of the Rings to savor as I will. And I have to say, this beats any ski trip I can think of.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On winter recreation

In but a few short days I will be going skiing. Yes, I, Katrin Holt, have decided to blatantly put life and limb at risk. Why? Because love means making certain compromises—and in this particular case that means agreeing to extreme physical discomfort and a generous dose of ridicule because I’m the significant other of a Frenchman and in the winter, the French go skiing. With their significant others.

There are many sports at which I am bad. Volleyball was never my fort, nor was tennis. I never did manage the 7-minute mile back in junior high, despite the dubious pleasure of weekly opportunities. I’m lousy at basketball, never played water polo and the hand-eye coordination of softball was never my thing. But while my skills in these areas may be less than stellar, at no sport am I more pathetic than I am at skiing.

At this point in my diatribe (oft-repeated, especially around this time of the year), my interlocutor generally protests with something along the lines of, “But you said you’re from the mountains. How can you not know how to ski?” As if mountains were all the same, all across the world, each and every one of them outfitted for rock climbing in the summer and alpine skiing in the winter. Yes, I’m from the mountains, and no, my mountains aren’t known for skiing. Hiking, sure; apple pies, absolutely. But no skiing. It’s more a sledding kind of place. Sledding is fun; sledding is easy; sledding I like.

So no, I’ve never learned how to ski. And honestly, this ineptitude has never been the source of any significant sense of inferiority. On the contrary, the very concept of donning multiple layers of puffy, multi-colored ski clothes, strapping what appear to be 10-pound moon boots to my feet, and going sliding off on those precarious-looking contraptions popularly known as skis, risking a broken neck in the name of “fun” and coming home at the end of the day cold, wet and nursing a bruised body and ego, has somehow never succeeded in eliciting any form of enthusiasm from me. And yet, much of the world, including 99% of the French, sees things differently. How many times have I heard the praises of skiing sung? The beauty of the mountains; the thrill of the descent; the gratification of those particular muscle aches; the gustatory bliss of a piping hot fondue savoyarde or raclette at the end of the day. I could go on....

But I won’t. Let me just say that the skiing world and I have always had our differences. Even before ever attempting it, I already knew that it wasn’t my bag. Yes, I once took a shot at a quick bout of skiing, back in my wayward youth, at a site aptly named “Purgatory.” We only stayed for a day, the majority of which I spent falling over, careening into innocent fellow skiers and bouncing down gargantuan “kiddie” slopes like a human snowball much in the fashion of vintage Goofy cartoons, leaving random skis and poles dotting the hillside behind me. In the end, I sought refuge in a pseudo log cabin café, where I basically hid until day’s end, sipping hot chocolate and watching tiny children tearing the hell out of the slopes as though it were easy AND fun.

In light of my lack of affinity for winter sports, I long ago mastered the fine art of avoiding any form of participation in the masochistic post-Christmas French tradition of “le ski.” However, G. caught on to my heretofore-successful maneuvering and has somehow managed to finagle me into joining his ski-loving family this year for “just” a long weekend. We’re going to “zee Alps,” where I would just like to point out in passing that skiing deaths—deaths!—occur every single year.

But no matter. I shan’t be called a wuss. I shall go. I shall leave frozen Paris and travel to the even more frozen Alps, where I shall don the silliest ski clothes that I can get my hands on and spend every day acquiring the aches and pains required to earn my evening dose of raclette. Have I mentioned that I abhor raclette, right along with every other traditional Savoyard dish involving potatoes and/or bread and stinky, indigestible melted cheese? But never mind! I’ll go, and if I hate it (which I undoubtedly will), then I won’t go back again next year. That is the other half of the compromise.

And so, dear readers, if you never hear from me again, know that I at least left this earth in a spirit of adventure and diplomacy, risking my fragile ego and my (relatively) young life in the name of Franco-American relations. I should be awarded immediate French citizenship just for this. And if I do survive, you can expect a full report on this totally bizarre ritual fashion of rendering the already bleak winter just that much more unpleasant. Wish me luck!

Sonny Bono: I bet he agrees with me.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Roses are red

Back in November, I mentioned that the French don’t really “do” Halloween. They don’t really “do” Valentine’s Day, either. Most, if asked, will turn up their noses upon the mere mention of it, because as everybody knows, it’s just another damned commercial holiday meant to convince consumers to spend money they don’t have on stuff they don’t need. Worse still, it cutifies love. Quelle horreur.

And yet, just try to find an available restaurant in Paris on Valentine’s Day. Not a chance—they’re all booked solid. France’s boutiques are well aware of what February 14 means as well, as are its florists. Roses, roses, everywhere. I was informed yesterday by a colleague that most roses one finds for sale in Paris are in fact shipped in from Africa, where they are grown en masse, diverting water that once went to nourish trees that provided food for the local populations. In other words, Africa’s people are being deprived of both food and water so that we may have roses in the dead of winter. I was far from my computer when she said this, and therefore unable to fact check anything, but it sounded a little too Avatar-esque to buy off-hand and in any case didn’t stop me from accepting the long-stem white rose presented to me after lunch by our friendly server. Nor did it stop the colleague in question, for that matter. Valentine’s Day is despised enough as it is; must we also make it a target of moral outrage?

For my part, I am finally beginning to appreciate this officially-disliked-yet-secretly-celebrated holiday (aside from its hideous signature colors—pink and red?!). But chromatic dissent aside, I’m honestly warming up to Valentine’s Day. This is mainly because I’m—AT LAST—no longer single and this holiday gives me an opportunity to unashamedly gloat really enjoy it. When I was all by my lonesome, I loathed the entire month of February and its cheesy pink and red hearts. “Valentine’s Day is so lame,” I would say, “and who in his right mind actually eats those nasty ‘be mine’ candies anyway?” Then I ceased being single and changed my attitude about the whole thing overnight. Now February means (more) gifts, (more) candlelight and (more) champagne—all very good reasons to not even bother pretending to look down on this “commercial” holiday. Besides, I’m an American; I’m supposed to enjoy commercial holidays. It is, after all, the fault of my people and our evil capitalist ways that such holidays even exist. Ask any of the French.

On that note, I must end this post as my valentine and I have dinner reservations (we were able to make said reservations because today is the 13th, a clever little manoeuvre on our part). Happy Valentine’s Day to all, whether you like it (yet) or not!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside

Growing up in America, I learned that Christmas cards are supposed to be sent before Christmas. OK, that’s not exactly true. My mother has always insisted that the “Twelve Days of Christmas” grant one a 12-day extension—from December 25 to January 6—but even she must admit that Epiphany is the absolute limit of what good Christmas card-sending etiquette will allow. This is yet another reason why my parents should move to France, where the custom is to send Christmas cards all through the month of January. Hence, on this final day of the month, the Christmas season in France officially draws to a close. And I must admit, it has left me a bit melancholy.

Christmas is something that I look forward to for roughly half the year. Being of firm Cancerian nature, I can’t help myself. I may have hit 30, but Christmas to me still means magic: it means the Nutcracker; it means Handel; it means the heavenly smell of Douglas firs and a festive array of Norwegian specialties like lefse and julekake, lovingly baked by my mother every year. In short, Christmas means Home, wrapped and adorned in all the best of what the subconscious associates with it. When I fall asleep in December, I dream of sipping mulled wine at Fezziwig’s Christmas party.

But when the holiday season draws to an end and life returns to normal, I find myself suffering from a sort of emotional hangover. I leave the festivities and my family behind once more and return to Paris, which may be my adopted home but somehow never seems less welcoming than when I land at Charles de Gaulle airport after the Christmas holidays, my suitcase heavy with gifts and my heart heavy with farewells, to gray Paris skies and bitter January cold. In a city where winter temperatures arrive in November and can sometimes stick around right through March, January is a month that Parisians just grit their teeth and get through. There are of course some “winter people” out there, those thermally-misguided few who embrace the cold and find some sort of bizarre fulfillment in wrapping themselves in coats, scarves, hats, gloves, boots, etc. Not me. Once Christmastime is over and presents put away, I don’t care to see a single snowflake floating down from above, no matter how pretty they are or how ardently I may have celebrated their appearance only a month prior.

If I had it my way, the year would progress as follows: April, May, June, July, August, September, October, December. The only downside that I can see to this abbreviated approach is that I would now be 15 years older than I actually am, which would automatically skip me right over the whole child-bearing period and would thus deprive the world of my future scionstruly a shame. On the other hand, I would also be that much closer to retirement, which almost makes giving up said future scions worthwhile.

But alas, winter for the moment is showing no signs of letting up. Snowflakes continue to fall, night continues to reign, and if I am to believe what Ive just heard on the news, it aint over yet. But we shall not give up all hope: spring is surely out there somewhere, just waiting for the right moment to show her lovely face (right? Right?). So until then, G. and I will continue to hunker down, warming ourselves with comfort food and 14% ABV reds, until that blessed day when Old Man Winter finally decides to shuffle off.