Monday, December 9, 2013

I'm back

Well, it’s been nearly a year since my last post, which is admittedly pathetic, but as I nonchalantly mentioned a while back, a little bundle of joy has come our way, in addition to a new company (my own!) and a new town. In other words, the theme of 2013 around here has been BIG, BIG CHANGE. And as it turns out, these particular big, big changes, while fantastic, are really quite time consuming.

Where to pick up? I won’t bore you with the details of my pregnancy, because really, you probably don’t care. Plus I had it fairly easy until the last two months, when I magically transformed into a living water balloon. That might have been worth relating at the time, but at five months post partum I’m happy to say I pretty much recognize myself again, and with baby sleeping through the night I no longer have to face blunt observations from absolutely everybody about how tired I look. Not that I expect it to last, mind you, but I’ll take what I can get.

It’s really quite astounding how much my life has changed in so little time. A year ago I was living in the heart of Paris with a “9-5” (really 9:30-7:30 but who’s counting?) agency job, a killer commute and no sweet little dependent creature to take care of (my husband notwithstanding. Har-har). And now, a mere 12 months later, I’m a MOM, an entrepreneur, and a suburbanite! Two of those things I’d sworn never to become. Granted, I did said swearing when I was 12 and 24 respectively, neither of which is the most lucid of ages. Had I been wiser, I’d have kept the oath swearing to a minimum, because the truth is that I feel like I’ve walked smack into that last scene from Field of Dreams: “Hey, is this heaven?” “Maybe it is.” Awwwww.

OK, I’ll get back to my regular sarcastic observations next time around (which I promise will be soon). For now, it’s Christmas. Let’s just enjoy it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Won't you be my neighbor? Part II

As some of you may recall, I have already discussed my beloved neighbors and their eccentricities, but such is the magnitude reached by said eccentricities over the past several years—nay, over the past several weeks—that I feel the subject warrants revisiting.

Like I mentioned in January, I am now officially self-employed, working from home, a free agent, etc., and am (mostly) loving it. The new boss in particular is one cool chick. The office, on the other hand, could use some work. Let me explain:

Prior to being self-employed, I worked long days far from home, meaning I missed out on exactly what goes on in my apartment building between the hours of 8:30 am–8:00 pm. In my blissful naïveté, I always assumed that nothing much went on at all, aside from the occasional delivery (mainly for me). But since merging home and office, I have realized that no such peace reigns in my apartment building. Quite the contrary, actually.

First off, nobody works. I don’t know what my neighbors are all up to, but they are definitely up to it at home. Victims of France’s 11% unemployment rate? Fellow freelancers? Rentiers? Whatever the case, they’re all here, all the time. I am thus treated to a smörgåsbord of weirdness all day long.

Undoubtedly lives in my building.

Let’s begin with my certifiably insane next-door neighbors and the 1-inch partition separating them from me. Crazy Neighbor #1 is an elderly Japanese gentleman, who judging by the noises coming through the wall is a true connoisseur of gay pornography. He is also the victim of some form of extortion by an old lady to whom he refers as “ma pauvre dame,” and who regularly calls him demanding money. Their conversations go something like this: “WHAT? No, ma pauvre dame, I will NOT send you any more! Pardon? Forty euros? OK, but this is the LAST TIME!”

As if that weren’t entertaining enough, last week Crazy Neighbor #2, a.k.a. Crazy Neighbor #1’s 20-something Brazilian alcoholic boy toy, returned from wherever he had been for the last few months (not rehab in any case), and the pornography fest ceased..., only to be replaced by drunken shouting matches, slamming doors and gangsta rap. The novelty wore off within the first 24 hours since, let us not forget, the aim of my being home all day is actually to work. And I don’t know about you, but I need some modicum of calm in order to succeed.

At one point, I actually resorted to an online white noise generator in a vain attempt to block out the insane loudness of all that vodka-soaked screaming. Sad, I know. And ineffectual. So I took it up a notch. As I was working on a project involving the Middle Ages, the idea came to me to crank up some nice loud medieval music. And as it turns out, nothing combats the sound of two drunken, shouting men like a bunch of chanting monks. So that is my new secret weapon. When things get out of hand next door, I release the holy brethren.

You want a piece of me?

So that was last week. THIS week has been a whole new adventure. Monday I came home from having tea with a friend only to find a baby carriage, baby included, sitting in the apartment entryway unattended. I wouldn’t dare leave a piece of luggage unattended in the entryway, let alone a baby, but then I’m not insane. My conscience told me to stick around, so I kept the forsaken child company until, some 15 minutes later, his (clearly incompetent) mother, a.k.a. Crazy Neighbor #3, came strolling nonchalantly down from the 6th floor singing to herself.

Me: It seems you have forgotten someone here.
Crazy Neighbor #3: Oh! I was just upstairs getting some diapers!
Me (seeing no such diapers): Mmm hmm.

On Tuesday, a plumber showed up at 10 am to break apart our shower tiles. I’ve oft mentioned the disastrous state of our ceiling, so one would naturally assume that any work done on our place would involve first and foremost the ceiling. Not so (our landlord is evidently also crazy). Monsieur le plombier was nice enough, although I can definitely confirm that “plumber’s crack” is an international phenomenon. Is there a specialty clothing store for plumbers, where all the pants have ridiculously large waistlines and no belt loops? Anyway, so we now have some new, entirely unasked-for tiling (in the wrong shade of white, but who’s keeping track?). Meanwhile, our ceiling is getting to the point where the sound of pieces of it breaking off and exploding on the floor no longer makes me jump. It’s become a sort of familiar background noise, not unlike the cheerful humming of the refrigerator.

Wednesday was pretty uneventful, aside from our upstairs Crazy Neighbors #4 and #5 spending a good part of the night dragging heavy objects across their 19th century wooden floors. Judging from the sound, and the guests, I can only assume they were having a nocturnal furniture-rearrangement free-for-all. They do that sometimes.

We’re not crazy, we just enjoy doing this at midnight.

And then on Thursday came the crescendo. I arrived home with my husband, laden with sacs of groceries, only to find that our entire block had been sealed off with yellow crime scene tape, flashing lights, stationed police agents, the whole thing. They let us pass, but upon reaching our building, we saw the reason for all the hubbub: a body. As in, a dead body. There it was, just lying on the sidewalk, hidden under the gold foil that the French use to cover dead bodies, shock victims, and the homeless during winter. No explanation, nothing on the news, zip. I called my mom:

Me: So there’s a dead body outside our front door covered in gold foil.
Mom: Gold foil? The French gift wrap their dead?
Me: I told you it’s an elegant culture.
Mom: Did they put a bow on it?

I figure that the day one’s own mother no longer seems surprised by the theater of the absurd that has become one’s life, one needs to perhaps consider making a change. So as fun as this all has been, I think it’s about time we looked to greener, saner pastures. I was reluctant to leave our “nice” neighborhood, but you know what? I think I can handle it after all.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Bonne année 2013!

After a long absence (I have no excuse), I am back at the keyboard, ready to turn my discerning gaze upon unsuspecting new subject matter. And subject matter there will be this year, for I am simultaneously embarking on two new Franco-American adventures: becoming my own Boss(!) and becoming a first-time Parent(!!!). So yes, 2013 will be no small year for me, and thus, no small year for Le Mot Juste!

In mental preparation for such formidable life changes, my first managerial decision was to give my star employee (myself) a nice long break to relax and gather her resources Stateside. Besides, one cannot seriously critique life as a pseudo expat without going home from time to time to re-immerse oneself in one’s own culture. So here I am, re-immersed. 

Fellow patriots.

There is a certain “honeymoon” period every time I return to the US, during which I marvel, newly-arrived-immigrant style, at what now seems so exotic about American life after 10+ years abroad. Eight-lane freeways, for example, or unlimited refills, or just about anything from Costco. Sometimes I just wander through Target, amazed at the availability of so much stuff, at such low prices. Good mascara for 5 bucks—oh! In France, I shell out so much more than that for the same damn thing.

Yesterday we stepped out (i.e. got in the car and drove for an hour “to the city”) to see the new Matt Damon flick, Promised Land. To my surprise, the theater offered IMAX, 3D and vibrating seats! When did this start? Anyway, the movie I liked. I also liked the big empty theater, which was a nice change from France, where I have long become maniacal about showing up early for fear of being left with a front-row seat, or worse, no seat at all.

Hurry up and wait.

Regardless of a few flops, I remain a big fan of Matt Damon, whom I prefer any day to both Leonardo, who for some reason bugs me, and especially to Brad, whom I flat-out cannot stand. Why the entire world seems to judge him a great actor is beyond me. I’m tempted to go to Google and type “Brad Pitt is a mediocre actor,” just to see if it will guess what I’m typing before I’m done typing it (thereby proving this has been typed many times before and I am not alone in my distaste), but I’m sure the second I type “Brad Pitt is...” Google will instead suggest one of its perennial favorites: “gay” or “dead.” A lot of people must be searching for these things if Google is spontaneously guessing them. It’s an interesting insight into our national hang-ups I suppose. Compare with Google France, which judging by its most frequent suggestions seems to suspect that everyone is Jewish (or gay or dead). So whereas American Internet surfers appear to be obsessed with sexual orientation, French ones appear to (still) be obsessed with who exactly has Hebrew ancestry. I shudder to imagine the consequences had Google existed during the Occupation.

The movie was quite good. Early reviews don’t seem to agree with me, but I like seeing an American film that dares to question the practice of fracking, however half-heartedly. The subject has been a big fat deal in France for some time, much as have GMOs, while both seem to be relatively new buzzwords on this side of the world. I was delighted to see a California measure on the ballot this November proposing the compulsory labeling of all GMO-containing foods, yet my “health conscious” home state voted it down! I see this as perfectly bizarre given the success of all those “they’re out to get us” diet books topping best seller lists and striking fear into the hearts of those who would dare consume sugar/carbs/meat/milk/soy/corn and now, wheat. That’s right, wheat is now what’s making America fat

The new face of evil.

I wonder whether the paranoia we seem to have in this country about what our food may be doing to us is at all related to the paranoia of those who harbor an obsessive fear of our government. I remember a day in my 12th grade AP Civics class, during which the teacher took out a long strip of paper and wrote the entire political spectrum on it, beginning with the extreme left (anarchy) and ending with the extreme right (fascism). When she was done, she joined the two ends together, forming one continuous circle. The point of course was that in the end, both forms of extremism stand shoulder to shoulder. I won’t go so far as suggesting that right-wing militia who arm themselves to the teeth with automatic weapons on the off chance that federal agents one day show up on their lawns in an attempt to seize their “freedom” are in the end not so different from left-wing activists who are convinced that the Department of Agriculture is purposefully trying to poison us all with genetically modified organisms, but it does give one pause for thought. “I love my country but fear my government” seems to have universal appeal in states both blue and red.

And there you have it.

This notion of fearing one’s democratically-elected government is among the most difficult to explain to the French, for whom the government has long lost its fear factor and could more aptly be likened to a doting mother nursing her hungry child. Fear the government? Whatever for? The government means health care, education, justice, jobs, transportation, vacation, retirement, and much more. As Adam Gopnik has observed in his own book of reflections on life in France, Paris to the Moon, “The American populist belief is that there is a secret multinational agency ready to swoop down from the skies and make everybody work for the government; the French populist belief is that there is a secret government agency that may yet swoop down from the skies and give everybody a larger pension.”

This government love fest of course comes at the price of exorbitant taxes on everything from how much you eat to how many televisions you own, yet doesn’t seem to bother anyone all that much. Consider current French President François Hollande’s attempt to hike income taxes on France’s wealthiest to a whopping 75% (that’ll teach THEM to be rich!), which very nearly became reality. Such a proposal in the US would not only be met with categorical refusal, while surely spelling the political demise of whoever was foolish enough to suggest it, but would doubtless be considered by many as irrefutable proof that government is evil.  

Just another reason why sharing my life between both shores provides so much to ponder. But that’s all the pondering I can muster for today. Thanks for hanging in there, and stay tuned for future rants and reflections at Le Mot Juste.