Signed, sealed, delivered (I’m yours) Friday, Jun 29 2007 

My silly schoolgirl crush on le foxy facteur is indulged once again.  This morning, I get dressed, and instead of wearing my usual t-shirt and capris, I wear a t-shirt and a skirt.  I even put on some red lipgloss, as opposed to the neutral color I usually wear.  Yes, gentle readers, I tarted up slighly for the Postman, in hopes that he might look my way.  This morning I left the appartment a shade too early, and he was nowhere to be seen.  I muttered, “damnation,” under my breath and proceeded to stop every few feet and crane my neck just a bit, in case I saw his bicycle.  Satisfied (or rather, dissatisfied) that I had blown it, I went to the train station with the intention of buying my train tickets to Arles. 

Not since my sojourn in Poland at the end of the Communist era have I met a people so inured to waiting in pointless lines.  After 20 minutes of going (nearly) nowhere, I gave up with the intention of heading off to the SNCF boutique near the tourism office.  As I left the station, who should I see, delivering mail on my street, raven curls tousled lightly by the breeze?  Ah yes, M. La Poste.  I pause.  Should I make a pretense of going back to the appartment, all the better for path-crossing?  I had no real reason.  And yet, he is a smoldering civil servant.  So yes, I went back to the appartment.  By this time, I have decided that it wouldn’t hurt to put some band-aids on my feet, since my shoes have a tendency to rub me the wrong way.  I run upstairs, slap on some band-aids, and run back downstairs.  And yes, I suppose it was a bit like stalking, but we’ll ignore that for the moment.  As I approached him, I smiled.  He smiled a sly smile.

“Bonjour,” he said.
“Bonjour,” I replied.

Yes, at this rate, I would have to live in Grenoble for a year before any progress was made.  And yes, next week my schedule changes, and I won’t be able to make eyes at the mailman.  Nevertheless, it gave my day a boost; as it turns out, it was sorely needed.

In class today, the instructor said that she had our first assignments to turn back in, but that the news isn’t good.  Apparently, the class as a whole has poor written grammar.  She has to rethink the class schedule.  Some people did all right, but the rest did not, in her opinion, have the appropriate skills for the course level.  Of course, we would have to wait until the end of class to get our homework back.  I worried, because not only is that my nature, but because if my written French grammar stinks, then je suis screwed.  After all, a huge part of the application for a graduate program in French is the French writing sample.

Long story short, I got an “A” on the writing assignment.  Apparently, I was one of the exceptions, not the rule.

But the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.  I suppose I should be content to loaf, earn some easy credits, and coast through the summer.  But, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a full-on, apple-polishing, extra-credit-doing school nerd.  And it is against my nature to coast.  Plus, it will be boring for me.  The whole thing cheesed me off.

Better to think of the dreamy postman.

And maybe I should get around to buying those train tickets.


Please, Mr. Postman Thursday, Jun 28 2007 

In my haste to jot off a quick post before my job (which I will describe later), I forgot to explain what is perhaps the single most important thing that happened to me yesterday.

I fell in love.

Okay, not really.  But I have developed a full-on, raging crush on the postman in my neighborhood here in Grenoble.  He looks like a Bronzino portrait, except for the jeans and t-shirt and the yellow La Poste bicycle he rides while delivering the mail.  Yesterday morning, when I was flummoxed by his foxiness, I stared, slack-jawed until he said, “Bonjour.”

“Bonjour,” I managed to squeak out, trying to sound as alluring as I possibly could, and let’s face it, failing.

The fact is that I suck at flirting in English, a language in which I have considerable dexterity (at least, I like to think so).  So my skills in French must be considered abysmal.  And sadly, next week, my classes start at 8:30; M. La Poste hits my block around 10:30.  So, I only have the rest of this week to make an impression.

So this morning, I rushed to get ready in time for Mon Mari Futur, taking care to look relatively cute (as I was going straight to work after class, looking sexy would have been inappropriate).  As I walk down the street, I see him, and my heart skips a beat.

“Bonjour,” I murmur in what I hope is a alluring manner.

“Bonjour,” he replies, with mere civility.

In other news, the kids I tutor are completely charming, and surprising unresentful of me, considering they don’t want to spend their free time being forced to speak English, a language that seems to give them fits.  Yesterday, I flailed around a bit, trying to figure out what level they were at, and what they needed to work on.  I’m really there to give them practice speaking English, not to teach them.  So we played hangman for a bit.  Today, we played Go Fish (good for question formation and numbers), but their little brother wanted to play too, so we played bilingually.  Which is fine, but it gave them an excuse to speak French.  Tomorrow, I will be a little stricter about that.  But they’re good kids and it will be better for all of us if I make speaking English with me as entertaining as possible.  They don’t need to dislike the subject anymore than they already do.

I think that will be it for today.  I will bring news of les petits, who refer to me as L’Anglaise, even though I’m, strictly speaking, L’américaine.  But I get “Anglaise” a lot from the French.

A tout,
La Vieille Anglaise

Quick note Wednesday, Jun 27 2007 

This is going to be a quick one, as I am off to my new job as an English tutor.  I tackled the phone, and the Mamman answered.  She had been updated, and I think she spoke extra clearly, knowing that I was not a native French speaker, since I understood her well.  So, wish me luck.

Also, I have not booked my train ticket to Arles, but I did book a room at the Hostel.  I wasn’t going to stay at a hostel, because I am so very old, but 15 Euros compared to 50 changed my mind quickly.  I probably shouldn’t blow so much money at all, but I figure I can eat sandwiches and not shop at the soldes (which are fabulous) – the twice yearly mega sales they have in France.  They started today, and tout le monde is hitting all the stores, from Monoprix and Galleries Lafayette to the little boutiques.  We don’t really have a comparison in the US, because everyday there is a sale somewhere.  I’m going to wait – I hear that in two weeks, the prices are even better, even if the pickings are slim.

A tout,
The Senior Senior

Possibly employed Tuesday, Jun 26 2007 

After class today, we were walking to the tram stop.  And I admit it, there was English speaking going on.  While I (personally) think that it is probably better just to speak in French amongst ourselves, it can be a lot of extra work, and it is not for me to say what language one should or should not speak.  My impulse, is to respond in the language that is spoken to me.  So we are speaking in English (well, I wasn’t saying that much, because while I am in the group, it is clear that I am not part of it).  A security guard came up on a bike and asked if we were “anglais.”  He had meant if we were English, not that we spoke English, but by that point, it didn’t really matter.  It turns out his boss is looking for a native English speaker to work with his kids during the summer.  I took the initiative, and though I need to call this evening to set things up (a thought which terrifies me, since the phone means I don’t have access to lip reading and facial expressions in case I become perdue.  But I’m still paying bills while I’m here, and it is a paying gig.  So that would be nice.

I’m also thinking that I might go to Arles for at least a day this weekend, maybe two (though I don’t think that’s so likely – I think hotel rooms are too hard to find, and a little more expensive than I want to pay – though if I’m going to be able to pick up a little pin money…).  Tony Bennett may have lost his heart in San Francisco, but Van Gogh lost his ear (although I think he had an idea where he left it).

I’m feeling all lone wolf lately, since I’m not part of the cliques that are transpiring.  It is funny how predictable human nature is, no?  I don’t feel bad about not being part of the “gang,” but I do miss a certain level of human interaction.  I’m hoping that either the few hours a week that I might be tutoring, and maybe the opportunity to meet other students (those who are, at the very least, closer to 30 than 20) might help that.  For now, it’s me, my franglais, and my blog.  I would be a little blue, but in case you haven’t noticed, I’m living in France.  And that’s cool enough for now.

Penser en franglais Sunday, Jun 24 2007 

The summer rhume is on it’s way out.  Yesterday, we went to Vercors, a segment of the the Alps that has a tragic history with the French Resistance.  Stinkin’ Nazis.  We also went to the Grottes de Choranches, a cave formation, and we visited a Chèvrerie, where one makes goat cheese.  However, the combination between the cold and the motion sickness on the trip made me, by the grottes très malade.  After we got back to Grenoble, I loaded up on echinachea and went to bed.  Today, still rhume-y, but feeling much better, I decided to get all shutterbuggy (I took two rolls yesterday) again; this time, around the centre-ville of Grenoble.  Something like that is good on a Sunday, since unlike in the US, nearly everything is closed.  It becomes very quiet; while I will take pictures of daily life in Grenoble, I felt like just taking pictures of things.

The internet café is open today, which was fortuitous, since I was missing my “peeps.”  I’m not especially homesick, but I am missing the gang.  I feel like such a geriatric around all these kids.  I would like to be able to e-mail Puppy Mama, KS(-P), Bad Influence and the gang; the fact that I can’t find the sweet, free Wi-Fi, leads me to be frugal with my on-line time.  So Puppy Mama:  I bet it is the difference between Canadian and Continental.  I would say boîte (box), for its container.  KS(-P):  interesting French.  Similar to your “ghetto.”  A tardy “break a leg” to you.

Oh, and I am in a no-woman’s land:  I’m thinking roughly 6o/40 English/French.  Often in the same sentence.  So if you see weird spelling, it is probably due to that.

A tout,
The Senior Senior

Rhume d’été Thursday, Jun 21 2007 

I have developed a little cold, which is, bien sur, très annoying.  No one wants to get a cold in the summer or while traveling.  But, I suppose it isn’t very surprising.  Ah well, I’m at the internet café, drinking lemon tea.

As today is the first day of summer, the city (as is all cities in France) is preparing for la Fête de Musique.  Musicians set up on the streets and serenade the populace.  I’ve got to finish my roll of 100 speed film so tonight I can take pictures.

It is finally a bit cooler today, it has been near 90 degrees (all I hear about is Celsius, and despite my meteorlogy class of semesters gone by, I can’t remember the conversion worth a damn – I suppose I could look it up, but feh, it isn’t really worth the effort).  France is not so much air conditioned, and I didn’t think much of that when I heard it, because my American appartment isn’t air conditioned.  But you forget how much is air conditioned at home.  It is hard to have much of an appetite when it is that warm, even if the food is excellent.

Only in France:  I saw a guy smoking a cigarette, riding a bike.

Another amusement:  there are paperbacks here, for customers to relax and read while sipping their café.  Among the books, a Murder She Wrote mystery novel.

A tout!

The Senior Senior

ça marche Tuesday, Jun 19 2007 

So here I am, blogging from an internet café in Grenoble.  My French improves in fits and starts, but it’s still early days.  One of the problems I have is that I’m not quite thinking in French, but I’m not quite thinking in English.  English words escape me, and my French vocabulary, while not bad, has a lot of strange holes in it.  I mean, comment dit-on doorknob?  Or self-tanner.  I had to look up the word for dental floss (fil dentaire, if I can only remember to buy it).  Sure, I can (and have) discuss Rousseau, or politics, or the theatre.  But the word for can (as in canned food)?  Beyond me.  Still I soldier on, occasionally using le when I should be using la, using the wrong verb morphemes (even though I know better, but my speaking is desperately trying to keep up with my thinking).  My host and her friends have complimented me on my French, saying that my accent is not too pronounced, and that I have a good grasp and I understand a lot.  Sometimes I am confident, but others I think to myself, “there is no way I am ever going to be accepted to nationally-ranked graduate French program.  On verra

Still, I’m having a good time.  Although, I’m still steamed that I let an aggressive French panhandler take 10 Euros off me.  I think I’m more angry because I knew what was going on the entire time, but I lacked the fortitude to stop it.  Mostly because I’m used to panhandlers who take no for an answer.  An expensive lesson to learn, but learn it I have.

I must fly, however.  I don’t want to use up my internet time all in one fell swoop.

A tout!

Lafayette, nous sommes ici! Saturday, Jun 16 2007 

Even though Paris is trying to become plus branché, the practice is not working as well as the theory.  The brand spanking new WiFi gratuit that is supposed to be taking Paris by storm is not so much working.  At least not for me.  Two days without e-mail is a lot to ask of me.  I am blogging from Gare de Lyon, and I paid 8 Euros for the privilege.  In the US, I would have to be pretty damn desperate, but here it takes a lot less desperation to reach the breaking point.

Paris is…well, I may even lack the vocabulary to describe it in English.  It is even better than I imagined.  Of course, as I write this, there is some greasy, babbling French man, clearly incensed that I’m using a laptop, hectoring me.  But he’s gone now.  For the most part, we’ll say 80% of the time, everyone is kind.  That’s right, mes amis, rude Parisians are not nearly as common as they say.  Of course, it does help that I do speak French.

That said, my first day here (after roughly two hours of sleep in a 48 hour period), it was as if I had become an idiot.  But, I’ve rolled with it.  Yesterday, I barely used any English.  However, I must say that the vocabulary one uses in French lit classes is not the vocabulary one uses in daily French life.  I mean, what the hell is the word for doorknob?  I still don’t know.

Also, with the almost biblical level of jet lag (and just plain  lack of sleep) I had on Thursday, I did only a fraction of what I planned to do.  I did go to the Eiffel Tower, but didn’t go up, since the mere thought exhausted me.  I took some pictures, though.

Another thing that struck me was that Parisian dogs are superbly behaved.  I saw tons of them, off-leash, calm as can be, even around other dogs.  No poodles, but a couple of French Bulldogs.

Friday, I swear I must have walked 1/3 of Paris.  I went to the Musée Cluny, which, to a History Channel-watching dork like me, was awesome.  I mean, literally awesome.  The things people used to make, and the level of craftsmanship, struck me dumb.  I saw the oldest standing church in Paris (St Germain des-Prés), walked around les Jardins du Luxembourg (taking beaucoup des photos), and even caught a modern art exhibit.  Sadly, I didn’t go to the theatre, mostly because by 8:00, I was dead-ass tired.  Hopefully, when I come back at the end of July, I’ll have more energy.

So, on to Grenoble.  I have another 50 minutes before my train.  I left early, to make sure I had plenty of time.  Now I am waiting in the waiting room, with, among other, a very large, very noisy, American tour group.  Maintenant, je suis canadienne.

Voyage of the Damned? Thursday, Jun 14 2007 

After the dismal news that my passport would not be forthcoming, I had resigned myself to doom, failure, a summer working a fry vat, etc.  Then I said, “Dammit, I will go to Chicago, and get a passport if it kills me.  So I grabbed my bags, kissed the cat, bade my mom goodbye, and KS(-P) and I set forth just a shade before midnight to Chicago.  Why KS(-P)?  Other than she’s a kick-ass friend?  Well, she said she was due to hand out some road trip karma, and karma she did hand out.  So, much thanks to KS(-P).

Dopey and punchy and whatnot, we arrived in Downtown Chicago at the charming hour of 2:30 am.  Scoping out the Dunkin’ Donuts as a potential headquarters before the line formed.  Imagine my surprise when we discovered that a line had already formed (a line of 4, but still).  I joined the passportless band of would-be travelers on the sidewalk and KS(-P), seeing that I was in the company of relatively sane, normal folks, headed back home, so she could catch her 8 am meeting.  Here follows my journal:

2:40 am:  I am fifth in line.  And we have a long wait ahead.  Despite the information I was given, the Passport Office does not exactly open at 6:30 am, but 8 am.  Still, all hope I have resides here.  On the ground.  Outside.  At 2:40 am.  Shit!  I left my ultra-important manila envelope in KS(-P)’s car.  A quick check – am I that big of ditz?  Apparently, at 2:40 I am.  Fortunately, I have my cell.

“Yeah, I left my envelope in your car.”
“Oh shit, you did.”

KS(-P) needs to find a way to turn around, but will return poste haste with my manila envelope.  Which has my “proof of travel,” my bording pass, etc.

2:50:  Bad news.  According to the woman behind me in line, I need my birth certificate.  Which is in New Orleans.  With my unfinished passport.  I may be screwed (as if I weren’t already).  Still, I’m already here, and I can’t turn back now.

3:10:  It’s official:  everybody is pissed off at the “guv’ment”.  And well they should be  There’s me: leaving today.  The woman with her two daughters: leaving tomorrow.  The couple going to Rome: leaving Friday.  You get the picture.  People have driven here from Ohio, from Kentucky.  Something is amiss.

3:15:  A couple with snacks and chairs have just joined us.  I envy their chairs, but what would I do with them if I get to go to France?  Another couple follows.

3:30 – 5:30:  Waiting and pretending that I don’t have to go to the bathroom.  At least the weather is nice.

5:30:  McDonald’s is open.  The girl going to Costa Rica and I make a pilgrimage to the facilities.

6:30:  We are let into the building.  A victory (of sorts).

6:40:  I call my mom, give her the limited information I have.

7:45:  We go through the metal detectors!  We get to be seen.

8:15:  I have been dealt what might be a reprieve.  Although my birth certificate is still Nawlins (with my unfinished passport), I still may get my passport today.  Dare I hope?

9:00:  The secret is clearly to be early and have a pressing need.  That way, everyone who works at the passport office has not been beaten down by the daily crush of bureaucracy.  I see signs of strain.  Poor Bastards.

9:05:  We have been under radio silence for over an hour.  Cell phones off.  I can respect that.

10:30:  So far everyone who is traveling today has gotten their passports but me.  In acknowledging that fact, I eat two Tums.

10:55:  You know what kids love?  Waiting.

11:30:  Just when I despair, one of the (kick ass) Passport Staffers mispronounces my name.  Holy crap, it’s my passport!  They moved mountains.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m going to France.

11:45:  I catch the train to O’Hare.  Lord I want to take a nap.

12:45:  I’m here!  Really early, but here!  Better really early than too late.

1:15:  Some guy acts as if I’m Mother Teresa because I hand him a bin.  Have we really descended to that point where a simple display of nice manners is extraordinary?  Poor bastard (my new saying).

Yet another passport update (hint – still no passport) Tuesday, Jun 12 2007 

Just when I think I’ve got one problem under control….

I made some phone calls, and while I’m not crazy in love with most of my strategies to deal with the financial aid snafu (which is more or less fixed – just not in time for my departure), I have multiple strategies, so I won’t be eating garbage, sleeping on the streets or hitchhiking.  Which is a load off my mind.

As for the passport…I talked to the woman from the congressperson’s office, and I’ve got to say, her optimism is not what it was when I talked to her on Thursday (although, I suppose if I had her job, I would have a decided lack of optimism, too).  She suggested I try pushing back my flight (which has already been pushed back), or try driving to Chicago to get a passport within a day (which not only, in my case, means catching a bus to Chicago in the wee hours of the morning, but waiting in line from 4 am with all the other poor, desperate bastards, till god-knows-how-long and paying the processing fee again, which is an additional expense I can ill afford) .  These are not options readily available to me.  I know that there is a limit to what she can do, and really, she shouldn’t be required to do all this for constituents.  The @$#!^&!! State Department has handled these new passport requirements poorly, so much so that if they were a private business, exposes on Dateline would blow the lid of their fly-by-night claims and misinformation.  Actually, that’s not a bad idea.  Dateline, in between catching internet pervs and interviewing celebrities I’m sick of hearing about, could do a two-hour special and call it…well, I can’t think of a pithy title off-hand.  Suggestions?

This blog is fast becoming my place to vent about how “those fuckers” are bound and determined to put the kibosh on this whole enterprise.  I’m sure that it makes it tedious reading for those who don’t give a rat’s ass (my, aren’t I colorful these days?) whether I go to France.  I certainly hesitate using the word “unfair,” since in the vast scheme of things, I suppose I have it pretty sweet.  And yet, I have followed all the rules, planned ahead, and was generally Senior Senior-on-the-spot.  And here I am, despite the assurances I’ve received all along, with a very real risk of wasting the price of a plane ticket, and missing out on an experience that very well could be the difference between getting into a graduate program (and an assistantship to help pay for it), and not getting into a graduate program.  The stakes are higher than just getting to do something cool, since I can’t afford to do something just because it seems cool.  And yes, I understand that not everyone is going to share my priorities.  But since I am working hard and following the rules, it would be nice if I was rewarded with institutions (and it is institutions more than individual people who are failing me) that managed to keep their collective word.   I can’t guarantee that this is the last time I’ll bitch about it.

I would love to have good news to pass along, unfortunately, I don’t have any to share.  Except that the nurse called with my test results for all the tests they ran.  Everything is good, and I am in excellent health.

So yes, at least I have my health.

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