Friday, November 6, 2015

Flashes from our last stretch of France

Bonjour mes amours! It's been a long time, how the heck are you?! We moved from Nancy, France to Ghent, Belgium at the end of August. I'll talk about Ghent (slash Gent, which is the Dutch spelling) in the next post, but it felt incomplete not so share highlights (and a theater performance lowlight) from our last months in France.
To begin, here's one of the many magical sunsets we were blessed with at our Nancy apartment. 

For Joel's 28th birthday in April, we made party hats and made vin chaud (hot wine with apples, cinnamon, cloves, and other spices, along with a splash of whiskey. Too delicious to reserve just for winter!). Hence the purple mouths :) 

For most of Joel's life, he has enjoyed the same "3 P's" birthday meal: pizza, prawns, and pumpkin cheesecake pie (which is actually a pie with a layer of pumpkin and a layer of cheesecake. Amazing.). Usually his master chef mama makes it for him, but this year was my debut! Mama Patti was kind enough to send canned pumpkin and the recipe, and we did a homemade pizza. Joel was a happy birthday boy.

I took a theater class in order to learn French. At the end of the semester was a "Spectacle" aka variety show. I was cast, with my partner Bablu, to perform a monologue from "Cid de Corneille," which is kind of the Hamlet of France. Bablu and I are both incredibly goofy people, but for some reason the teacher insisted we perform this piece, which describes Don Diegue's grief at being an old soldier who has been mistreated by the count. 

To give you a sense of the mood, the first lines are, "O Rage! O Desespoir!" I was nervous for weeks about the performance. You know how people say the nerves leading up are worse than the actual event? In this case, people are wrong. To borrow a line from Jackie Childs, "This is the most public of my many humiliations."

We made friends! I met Teddy (left of Joel) and Kelsey (right of Joel) after starting a writing group in Nancy. In addition to being outstanding writers, Kelsey and Teddy are superb people with wonderful partners. We all enjoyed a decadent evening of lovely food and drinks (yes, those are bloody marys made by yours truly) in Kelsey and Marc's outrageously gorgeous garden. Among us we've got two Americans, two French, one Englishman, and one Kiwi.

Up the street from our place was the Maxéville Strawberry Festival, which consisted of a giant flea market, games and activities, strawberry foods & beers, and an entertainment stage. You can imagine my surprise after seeing a group of French women line-dancing to country music, many of them looking nervous in front of the crow. I actually teared up watching them because they were doing this weird, totally out of context activity that made them happy! That's what life's about eh?

In June I met my cousin Aliza in Paris for five exciting days. I arrived an evening early to....PERFORM STAND-UP! I felt like such a baller, especially because we got to split the donations that came in- 13 euros, what up! I was VERY nervous because I hadn't done it in so long, but I think it went okay. My lovely friend from college, Hannah, and her girlfriend came to lend support. AND I got to eat a bagel sandwich. Great night all around :)

Aliza and I wandered around confused with a map attached to my face. We braved June heat, language barriers, a quirky Air Bnb rental, and a dangerously early flight home with pastries and the power of cousin love. You know we're related because when I asked her what she wanted to do in Paris, she replied without hesitation, "Eat."

One of the most amazing Paris eateries (if not the hands-down best) is L'as Du Falaffel in La Marais (a district aka arrondissement). You stand in line, pay the man like €5,50, and get a falaffel that will make you want to say dirty things to it and yell at anyone who doesn't have a falaffel that they are a dumb idiot. It's. That. Good.

Sacre Coeur = breathtaking. The big walk uphill is made much better with an ice cream cone from down the block.

As a former (and eternal) theatre nerd who got way into the film's soundtrack, I've always wanted to visit. The building is actually quite anti-climactic to swing by; the real action happens when you buy a ticket to their show. But the sight of the windmill still made me giddy!

Another cross of the Paris bucket list: Shakespeare and Company has been around since 1951, and has transcended "Anglophone bookstore" and become a literary institution. They have a wonderful program where writers can come stay there (in tiny beds in the little rooms where visitors peruse books during the day), with the requirement that these "Tumbleweeds" read a book a day, help out around the store, and create a brief autobiography for the archives. 

In addition to a brilliant collection of books, a piano, and visitors sleeping amongst the literature, there are walls filled with notes and wisdom from visitors.

After spending 4th of July celebrating on our own, we were happy to share Bastille Day with all of France! In the morning we went to the ceremony in Nancy, where the father of the kids I babysat for knighted soldiers! Super rad. Then we joined him in a beautiful historic building to hear the mayor speak.

Fabulous fireworks in Nancy! They were set to a perfectly matched soundtrack. I teared up, danced, and felt the love. Viva la France.

Nancy has a fabulous park, Parc Pépinère, that has a little free zoo featuring monkeys, deer, and this dope ass white peacock!

Joel and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary on August 2nd. It was perfect. We completed an "Annual Love Contract," where we talked about what's working and what we appreciate about each other, as well as what could be improved. Then we created a plan our next year of marriage. Then we recommitted to our relationship, contract style. It's one of the best exercises we've done!

  You can get a free copy through Married With Luggage. The rest of the day was spent eating, drinking, and being merry at a waterfront park.

Later in August, Joel's daddy Mario came with his selfie stick to visit us for a week!
It was Mario's first (and possibly last, ha ha) time in Europe, so we lived it up with amazing gluten-free meals every night, and plenty of Mario's famous vacation coffee (coffee + Jim Beam Black + Baileys/Creamer). Me being a dessert freak, we splurged on this gluten-free lemon cake with various flavored chocolates. Mmmm.

We took a trip to beautiful Strasbourg, which we Segway scootered all around! Fun fact: blasphemy is still a crime in the Alsace region, you can get years of jail time. Woof.


Back in Nancy, something meteorologically magical happened and our whole eye-line was covered in orange! I've never seen anything like it. Thus we end where we began, with the view that reminded me on a daily basis what an incredibly rich and fortunate adventure we are on. 

So there you have it my fine friends, our last few months in France. We came, we ate, we saw, we tried to speak, we cursed bureaucracy, we fell in love with the culture, and we grew ourselves and our marriage. 
Au revoir Lady France, until we meet again.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Unexpected Day in Paris that Sums Up Life in France

Joel and I started the process of applying for visas for our August move to Belgium. For those who were present during our visa process for France, you might recall that we experienced all the highs and lows of an exciting day at the fair followed by intense food poisoning. Acquiring those visas was nothing short of miraculous, and the grey hairs I now have that I singlehandedly blame on that experience are my constant reminder of that first horrendous brush with French bureaucracy.

We thought this time around would be less disorienting and painful. HA HA HA HA HA.......*starts sobbing* no. Case in point: A background check in every country we've lived for the past five years is required. So, we need to make a request with the FBI, which requires fingerprints. We read that the local “gendarme,” or police, offer this service. So we go, and they say to go to the prefecture (kind of a city hall). There, they tell us to go to the national gendarme. So we go, and they say, “No, you want the consulate,” the nearest one being over an hour away by train. So, we had our French friend call to ask the consulate. They say they don't do that, and we need to go to the police. *audible groans*

Nancy, France: So pretty, so devoid of fingerprinting services
Meanwhile, we paid a lady 80 euros to translate our birth and marriage certificates into French, another requirement. I asked her about the fingerprints, and she said that the police do them but you have to MAKE them, since they find it quite annoying (what??). Her friend basically did a sit-in to get them to do it.

So we went back, with a written request of what we wanted, including the phrase, “Nous sommes désespérés!” (We are desperate!). The officer investigated but concluded that they don't do it, and no one he knows of does it, and we should go to the consulate. OH MY GADDDDDDDDDDDD.

So we call a different consulate, in a city about two hours away. They say we have to go to the Paris embassy. Joel calls the Paris embassy, and asks the woman approximately five times to confirm that they in fact take fingerprints. She repeats that they do, and we reluctantly spend over 200 euros on train tickets to Paris for the crack o' dawn the next day.

We arrived in Paris early and watched people go around the insane roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe. The embassy opened, we went in, prepared to be relieved of this maddening search for someone to dip our fingers in ink in exchange for money. 

One of the most chaotic roundabouts in the world, with zero actual lanes, and cars, motorcycles, buses, and taxis all pushing through. We couldn't believe the courage of the bikers!! (Can you see one?)
Long yelling-filled story short, they didn't do it for us. They DO take fingerprints, but only for passports, not the FBI. The extremely obstinate man refused to take any responsibility for what we were told on the phone, and I yelled in broken French, and Joel yelled in better French, and the man yelled in broken English, but that was that.

I don't think I need to explain how we felt at this point. For the first time ever, I hated France. The money and time we spent on this process that still ended with nothing, not even an apology. We regrouped over tiny overpriced coffees and looked at our options. I found a blog about a guy in France who took his own fingerprints after a similar experience, so I left a message with the FBI to check if that would work.

At that point we had to just wait for the FBI to open and get back to us. Meanwhile, we had gone through all this trouble to get to Paris, and dammit we were going to enjoy it! I had fabulous suggestions from my friend Hannah on where to go, so we marked up our maps and set out.

We bought some strong underpriced “champagne” (really sparkling wine, but ya know) and walked down the Champs d'Elysses aka Rue de Baller Status. It is THE place to shop for fancy stuff, like the original Louis Vuitton and Fendi, as well as the usual suspects, like Gap, Disney, etc. You can follow the road past the palaces, gardens, museums, the Louvre, the Notre Dame, and the Seine.

The Seine!
Two lovebirds kickin' it on the Seine
"The locks" where lovers and others write their names on a lock and hang it up

A mama and her babies. We gave them some baguette :)
 The last time we spent any quality time in Paris was in December 2010. It was packed for Christmas, and I didn't make it up the Eiffel Tower or cover much ground. 

So we remedied that. I WENT UP THE EIFFEL TOWER! IT WAS SO AMAZING! Walking up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower (it's cheaper, healthier, and not that bad), the view was getting more and more amazing. And then (cliché alert), it was simply breathtaking. 

How cute is this man with the suspenders right here?!

Eiffel Tower view, April 2015
Eiffel Tower, December 2010
  The anger left both of us. The situation was still annoying, but holy crap this place is SO FREAKING BEAUTIFUL.
On the second stage of the Eiffel Tower
Selfie! We saw SO many selfie sticks, it was hilarious at first then I was kinda jealous

We talked about how countries are like women. France is old school. She is stubborn and can incite rage with her haphazard, nonsensical behavior, and refusal to ever (EVER) admit she’s wrong. Her answers to your practical questions are vague. There is an eternal mystery to her. Her favorite phrases are, “We’ll see,” and of course, “C’est la vie”. (A phrase one utters frequently, accompanied with a long sigh, while trying to check a seemingly minor task off the list.)

But for her eternal weaknesses, she is irresistible to anyone who is a sucker for spontaneity, aesthetics, and sheer pleasure. She is a proud artisan, a piece of art among the renowned collection she houses, and someone who embraces life as it is. She loves humans and their bodies and showing affection, and arguing. She knows what she likes, and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Most of the time, she is just my type. And the rest of the time, well, we make up over pastries, champagne, and a magnificent view.

Kitty is sellin' that chair!
People were sprawled out in the garden, eating their sandwiches, soaking up rays

Thursday, January 15, 2015

6 things I've learned in 6 months of marriage

There are loads of articles on wisdom from people who have been married for 20+ years, but what wisdom can we glean as n00bs? Here's my take.

1. Pick your battles (sort of) 

We've all heard this adage. Picking your battles indicates that instead of sharing your feelings on many issues, you pick a select few to run with. Seeing as how marriage lasts a lifetime, personally I don't want to swallow all of my neurotic preferences until one day I just freak out about the cereal bowl having flakes stuck on it againnn because someone didn't rinse it. All of it could be saved by communication.

So instead my approach is, space out your battles. If I just asked Joel not to leave his fingernail clippings in the sink, then I will wait awhile before I ask that flossing teeth doesn't happen outside the bathroom. I then wait the appropriate amount of time before briefing him on “Sweat, the Yoga Mat, and Our Friend Mr. Towel” & if everything's still cool I'll throw in  a quick “Best Practices for Dirty Socks”.

One thing I complain inquire about is going out in these heinous pants, which look as if they were stolen from a pirate's garbage can after he decided it was time to throw them out.
 Making your requests rapid fire style could result in your words being misconstrued as “nagging,” a term I deplore (Joel has never said this to me, but I hear rumor that partners use it), or a remark like one of Joel's favorites, “How about we turn the temperature down on this pressure cooker?"


Like many things in life, selfies say it best.
I am an enthusiastic taker of couplies (did I just invent that?!) and Joel dislikes taking photos. Let this illustrate the principle above.
At first, happy happy.

Second one, kiss pic! We're doing okay!

The third one is pushing it. Good-humored smile is gone. Look at those eyes! They say so much.

Come on, one more Joel, I just got this cool new cat hat! (RIP cat hat, we hardly knew ye.)

I'm still having a good time, but by number 5 (which was actually like number 14 : x) you can see the situation has deteriorated. This brings us to our next point...

2. Cooperation is key (and moderately painful)
One of our engagement photos, obviously, ha!
 Ah, marriage. The magical world where doing what you want all the time is a really bad idea. I'm really good at listening and taking Joel's feelings and opinions into long as it doesn't conflict with what I want. Then it gets tricky. I'm very used to being independent and running
my life the way I want to, so I'm learning to compromise regularly (instead of the one time and then for years being like, Hey, I compromised in 2012! : ))

Fortunately, Joel and I lived together for about two years total before tying the knot, so there aren't many surprises, thank goodness, but marriage is still a game-changer. Pretty much our only challenge has been negotiating about money and lifestyle, which ties into money. Joel's spending habits mirror that of an old man who grew up during the depression. No need for cups, we have jars! This “meat product” is on sale! I, on the other hand, love my creature comforts. Almond milk, organic everything, pillows, candles, earrings, tights...Hey a sista's gotta look good!

We argue over how much money I can give to homeless people (I say it's good for our karmic bank, and Joel says “How about we put it in our actual bank?” Ha ha touché.), then end up laughing about something. I like to keep in mind that challenging each other is critical to our evolution as people, and getting challenged by someone who really really loves and trusts you, and that you really really love and trust, is as good as it gets.
3. It's for-ev-er.
You might be thinking, “Uh yeah duh, that's what marriage is.” But it's amazing how many times we'll be going about our adult life business and one of us will say, “Whoa we're married!" It's as if we've just come out of a 6 month long bender, with vague memories of a wedding and honeymoon, the full effect setting in little by little.

Something I wasn't expecting was random bursts of nostalgia and reflection on past relationships. Joel's had them too. It's kind of like they are finally over in a way they weren't before. Marrying someone else is the last nail in the coffin, even with people I was sure I'd never get back together with anyway. It's strange to have ties to people who were such a big part of my life, and now those eras are irrevocably over, and there's really nothing left to say. 
4. Make time for yourself.
In the great words of my mother, “How can I miss you if you never go away?” It's really easy to spend allll of your free time together, especially as newlyweds. Joel and I moved to France right after our wedding so we've spent a totally insane amount of time together, just the two of us. Obviously we're stoked to spend time together, but I think it's important to feel affirmed as individuals in an independent way. 

If I'm feeling overwhelmed, it usually means I need some time alone, so I'll go for a walk or spend the afternoon wandering through town, doing my thing. Next month I'm going to England solo and am looking forward to it. It's nice to not have to be anything to anyone sometimes, and be completely self-involved for awhile. Make sure to get rejuvenated however you need to, so for-ev-er can be as pleasant as possible.

5. People think you're kinda lame...

Coming into Joel's new grad school program, his unmarried colleagues sort of labeled him as the married dude to his unmarried colleagues. I've had a similar experience when meeting people. There's this sort of disconnect with new single acquaintances, which is only mildly helped by the fact that I have totally been through it and we can exchange stories. But empathizing through past experiences isn't quite the same as treading through nights on the town and awkward dating disasters together today. Still, I want to be like, "I'm still cool!" But...

5 1/2. ..You are kinda lame...and it feels awesome. 
The second we got married, Joel and I got approximately 60% lamer in terms of our social lives. We just don't want to go out. Why go out? We have delicious treats, cuddles, and pajamas right here for free. Plus we gotta go to bed early, got a lot of work to do tomorrow.
Did you just threw up a little in your mouth, or are shaking your head sadly? This will be you sooner than you think!! Don't get me wrong, we are still kickass and in my opinion majorly improved from our former selves, but in terms of party time excellent, we are the nectar of lame, or in lame-man's terms, lamesauce. That was elaborate. 

Once looking for people to hook up with became irrelevant, and I realized life is much easier not trying to be friends with everybody, going out seemed like a waste of time, energy, and money. |This is combined with the fact that I am officially past my party prime, so chugging beer results in bloating, nausea, and acid reflux. It's a far cry from my college days of pitcher offs.

I don't know who any of these ladies are but they look like they're having a great time.
But, it's a good thing. I go running. I stretch. I meditate every day. I know I'm not missing anything, I socialized for like 10 years STRAIGHT. Seriously. I developed few skills that didn't involve eating impressive amounts of hot wings or perfecting my Bloody Mary recipe. I want to make money, be fluent in French, and do a million other things that will make me a total boss.

6. Appreciate the moment

Living in gratitude is the most important lesson I've learned. At the end of the day, petty differences in preferences and everything else are meaningless.

It's easy to get caught up in the details of life, projecting into the future in terms of work, money, moving, etc. And sometimes it's easy to think about the past, and romanticize certain aspects of life before we were inextricably linked to one another. But remembering what a friend told me, "People would literally kill for what you guys have" puts it into perspective and makes me feel incredibly lucky and grateful to have a partner to go through life with. Enjoying the moment, and not letting stress or other distractions infringe on it, is what will create our many cherished memories of this short time on earth together.

Speaking of stealing things from trash cans, we saw this tree on the street and took it home. I've decided it's a gratitude tree. There are a couple of pictures on it, notes of what I'm grateful for, and little gifts we've received. Not everyone will find an abandoned apartment-friendly tree, but I encourage you to make a gratitude jar or something similar. The visual reminder is uplifting.
That's it for now. I would love to hear your thoughts! If you're married, do you agree with some of these? If you're not married, are you afraid of what marriage will bring?