Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Amazing Hippie House Mom

Rosine is an incredible woman. Very thoughtful, intelligent, well-spoken and respectful. We knock every time we want to enter a room, but at the same time, when I may have accidentally walked into the unlocked salle de bains while she was getting out of the shower, she was okay with it and said I need not apologize. She just illuminates grace and comfort in every sort of way.

When I was sick, she gave me three kinds of cough drops, when I got stitches she took me to the pharmacy to get better supplies to wash my wounds, and had the pharmacist re-wrap my stitches after we had been walking along the Seine. And she will cook for me whenever, even though I don't ask her to. I can genuinely tell she wants to teach me, not talk down to me for my very simple mistakes.

"A Warm Welcome", Chez Madame Dru, 2010

And while her outlook on life is at a different point than where I find myself, I can very easily see my future ressembling hers. She is not active in politics, but she holds very strong opinions on how the world functions and what could be changed. We had a fifteen minute conversation about how silly it was that people spend their whole lives trying to pay off a mortage, when having a roof over your head is probably the single most important thing you need in life. And we talked about how globalization has completely diminished the lives of small farmers, who work their entire lives to provide for their families. But with importing and exporting goods taking over every market system, it becomes impossible for them to stand on their own two feet.

"Les Escaliers", Chez Madame Dru, 2010

Today we had an afternoon date planned to go the Modern Art Museum of Paris, and possibly Palais Tokyo, an industrial art museum with a pretty funky twist. I came back from class to take a nap since I haven't been sleeping well with my stitches. Rosine said, ok, bonne sieste and I'll see you soon. Around 3 pm she meekly walked into my room and said, "Excusez-moi Lauren, je vous revez." Looking at my clock I realized I overslept by an hour and immediately got up. She told me to take my time because she was preparing some meat for us to eat before we left.

Meat = hamburger + tomato salad = nomnoms.

So we leave around 3:45, after she made sure I thoroughly cleaned my stitches of course, and set off to find her car. It took us about thirty minutes and three cigarettes later to find her car. We were on the verge of aborting the mission and taking the bus when we turned on one final rue. The whole time we talked about her neighbors and her childhood, and Elisa's half sister. It was nice to just walk around the streets and hear her talk while she strutted along in her Birkenstock sandals and black flowing skirt with a long matching sheer top.

Wind blowing through our hair, Rosine showed me a few places on our way across the Seine. We talked about anglacismes, idiomatic phrases, and pollution. When we got to the Modern Art Museum we realized the permanent collection was a look-alike or a second-hand collection, meaning certain artists mimicked other works of art. It was pretty interesting to see different interpretations of famous Matisse paintings, or Warhol prints, or even Pollock tosses of paint. And the whole time, Rosine would look at one, guess the name and run up to the sign to see if she was right. And she was about 99.99999% of the time. We went through the whole museum in about an hour, but somehow discussed nearly every d'oeuvre.

"Le the et les noix.", Chez Madame Dru, 2010

After sharing a Diet Coke on the Terrace we stepped into Palais Tokyo to look at the funky gift shops. She bought me a 1Euro postcard that has the name "Aurore" written in graffiti on the front. Then she took me to a pharmacist and bought me new cleanser for my arm and made sure my dressings were clean enough. We walked along the Seine for a few minutes and discussed how I can get back to this area tomorrow for class. The evening was so nice, we even got to see a little garden at the back of the museum. On our way home we stopped at a supermarche for some things for dinner. It was a very light selection; some endives with pears, seeds, ham and olive oil. Then peaches with ice cream for dessert. Wonderfully simple.

Elisa got home after we finished dinner so we caught up for a few minutes and discussed the permanent collection we had just seen. And she asked me about my adventure filled weekend and if everything turned out okay. Rosine made a joke that everything bad happened when she left, and I said, "Oui, aujord'hui a Sweet Briar, j'ai dit que quand ma mere d'acceuil est partie, l'enfer est arrive! C'est comme, when mom leaves for the weekend, all hell breaks loose!" She laughed and said, "and so it goes..." (Is she not perfect or what for making a Vonnegut reference?)

When Elisa left the kitchen Rosine told me this beautiful story about when the French had a fete for the Americans after WWII when they sent thank you gifts to the States. Each gift had a name and address of the family who sent it. Her mother just so happened to send a doll of some kind, and there was an American woman who sent her a letter, asking where she could find one because she had a daughter, who happened to be about Rosine's age at the time, who wanted one. Instead of just writing back a response to find the doll, Rosine's mother sent the woman a doll of her own and they soon became pen-pals. In the late 1950's, Rosine's father traveled to the states and actually met the woman. But her mother never did. And until the two died, they continued to write each other, telling stories of their lives in the kitchen and around the family. One Christmas, Rosine told me she received a great package with things she had never seen before. One-piece pajama sets with footies, Rice Krispie treats, Popcorn, etc. She said it arrived a few weeks before Christmas but she had to wait, but it always stood out in her mind. I thought it was beautiful that Rosine's mother found such a great hobby to start, and that she was able to create a wonderful friendship that lasted until death. That would be so hard to do today, there are no more celebrations of countries helping one another, no connections made between absolute strangers. It's a different time now though.

"L'amour est un caillou riant dans le soleil.", Jardin du Luxembourg, 2010

Then we moved on to talking about her wall of memories. For 15 years she has built this wonderful wall, and I was envious for a few weeks because she was keeping these memories to herself. But tonight, I had the pleasure of going through just one set of keepsakes on the wall. We took down a small handbag full of old tickets and notes from the past years. I was happy to see this because I have been saving my movie theater, museum, and theater tickets for years. Seeing her face light up when she pulled each ticket or handout from inside the purse was priceless. She would quickly pick up her green-framed glasses from the chain hanging on her neck, place them on her nose, and say to herself, "C'est quoi ca....OH! Je sais! Oh, c'est incroyable!" And then the story would start. For nearly an hour she dove into past adventures, surprises for her children, and even little notes she wrote herself from a series of photographs she once went and saw.

One quote stood out to me, "You are not the only who is lonely." I couldn't read the signature beside the quote, but it reminded me of one of To Write Love on Her Arm's creedos: "You are not alone." So I got to tell her all about the organization I try to help out with, and how its for suicide prevention. She thought it was great and she seemed surprised to hear me say I helped out with a non-profit organization, probably because I already have so much on my plate.

We talked, and talked, and every time her eyes lit up, I felt mine light up. I thought to myself, This is really someone I want to be there when I walk down the aisle, when I publish my first book of short stories, and someone I'd like to send photos too every few months. After a day like this, who would want to leave Paris so soon?

"Hoarders Paradise", Chez Madame Dru, 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Childhood is calling.

I love seeing other people enjoy themselves and the people around them. It's like hearing a secret, or getting to watch something truly amazing. Little kids running around wild brighten my day, but in addition to those moments where their chocolate covered faces are screaming, and they're kicking at pigeons, I look at their parents or the adults around them. They all have this same look in their eyes, but it's one that's masked with fear-- with maturity. Somewhere deep down they know they want to get up and run around with this little wonder. But instead, they sit idly, thinking about the childhood they once possessed.

Childhood is calling.

Last night I climbed a statue on the street and sat on it's lap. People walked by, some gave confused looks, but others smiled and understood I was just imitating the figure. I jumped down off of it and skipped up to catch up with my friends. But I Elf-hopped across the cross-walk. Drunk? No way. And I hate that that even has to be a question, or that's just the thought that comes across someone's mind when they see a 19 year old climbing statues, or chasing pigeons. "Oh, that girl must be on drugs", or, "I bet she's had a little too much to drink tonight."

"Fountain at Luxembourg", Parisian Gay Pride Parade, 2010

My childhood is always calling.

I say hi to people when they step on to the metro. I look at them with girlish wonder, trying to figure out where they've come from and where they might be going. Maybe if more people in the world would just listen to their inner child they wouldn't be so grumpy, so afraid to open up.

The ultimate childhood called last night.

The fountain at Saint Michel was filled with rose scented bubbles. And everyone, I mean everyone was running around, throwing bubbles at each other. The funniest group of people out of everyone was a mother, possibly grandmother, her two black cocker spaniels and a four year old boy. At first the dogs, who were hooked to a double-leash, got away so the woman chased them part way up Boulevard Saint Michel and left the boy to play with the bubbles. When she got back, she tossed one of the dogs in to cover the black coat with the white foam. When the boy got a little smart and tossed some bubbles on her, she coyly led him over to the fountain...and pushed him in! His look of utter astonishment wil never fade from my mind. And what followed his look was even funnier, the woman ran away, giggling, leash in hand, to hide from the boy who had already scooped up an arms' full of bubbles snd was on his way for retaliation.

If that wasn't the perfection example of giving in to a childish urge, then I don't know what is. I only hope to maintain my childlike spirit for as long as possible, playing pranks on my friends and family, seeing the beauty in everything in life and never stopping my search for happiness.

"Running Child", Centre Pompidou, 2010


The phrase "wake up slow" has never really been something I understood. Sure I sleep in sometimes, but I never really allow myself to just lay in bed and absorb the world around me. This morning, however, I was greeted with a beautiful beam of sunshine around 8 am. It wasn't the kind of sunshine that blinds your sensitive eyes upon opening them. The rays were gentle, warming and beautiful. I turned to look out my window and saw the day had already begun, but there were no hustle and bustle sounds outside. There was a calm, serene feeling. So I moved myself a little bit to let the sun rest on my face, and blinking a few times I wondered if I looked like a Black and White actress who had just been awakened by her true love. Batting my eyes like a starlet, I smiled and turn over on my side to feel the sun on my back.

Facing the corner, I saw the sun didn't just stop on the small of my back, it was shining over me, projected onto my white wall, broken into little drops of sunshine as it came through my lace curtains. Moving my body once a little once more, I felt my face illuminate and I smiled again, falling back to sleep.

I wake up an hour or so later, and realize it's Saturday. If any day is a perfect day for waking up slow, it's Saturday. My agenda for the day, get lost in Centre Pompidou and look at every piece of Modern Art that catches my eye. The other piece of agenda, capture every moment of Parisian weekend life I can. There's less than 7 days left in my adventure, and while I've taken full advantage of every opportunity that has come my way, part of me thinks there is still more to be uncovered.

I won't lie and say I'm excited to return to the states. Sure, I'm excited to see my friends and family, and play with my dogs, but as far as living in the U.S. goes, I can't pretend like I feel at home there anymore. There's a major difference in feeling accepted by your friends and family and feeling at ease in a city surrounded by strangers. I could never leave my family behind, but I didn't realize how differently I live my life compared to the people in Miami. The University is great, but I realized that I constantly tell myself the fast paced life of Miami is too much for me, it's not my style. And then I just kind of laugh it off and move onto a new subject. But I can't keep ignoring that. The drivers are not nice, you can't stop and talk to a stranger for more than 30 seconds to ask for directions, and you certainly can't just spend 2 hours in a little restaurant with a friend. And I can't think of many places in the U.S. that you can do that.

I love my country, and I love the people in it, but everyday I am here, I realize there was a huge piece of me missing. It's the piece I've been searching for since I was old enough to make my own decisions. The piece of me that's been missing this whole time is a connection with other human beings that's more than just passing each other by on the street. I'm not saying the French are the most friendly people in the world, but people aren't afraid to ask you for a lighter, a cigarette, which metro is closest, etc. People in bars are genuninely interested in what you're doing in Paris, what kinds of things you've done. There's no one way street here, everything is personal and shared.

Okay, so not everyone here is as peace and love, recycling is awesome, and free-spirited as I am. But they get it. They don't mock it, and they see the genuine love in my eyes when I talk about my tattoos, or when I talk about political issues in America and attempt to explain how not every American agrees with the war. They can see a more passionnate side of a younger person, and its refreshing to be valued as an equal here, and not a minor, or just a student with sometimes radical beliefs.

I know I said I would try to find myself along the way, and I knew that was a bold statement to make with just 5 weeks to do so. But looking back after only 4 weeks in Europe, I really have found myself. It's not just wishful thinking when I say I want to change the world one heart at a time, it's a creedo. It's my creedo. And I think it is safe to say I have sufficiently started that process here in Paris, with my own heart and maybe a couple hearts around me.

To the Americans who I've been so lucky to meet, I hope we can stay in touch. And to the Parisians I've quickly become great friends with, and who look out for me at night, or who smile at me when I walk by the fountain, I hope I can look back at these places in a year or five years, or thirty years and know that I changed their life for the better, and they changed mine as well.

Noontime next Saturday I will be making my way to the airport, with a tear in my eye and a bag full of memories.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

9am treats.

Picture it: Boulevard Saint Michel. A two-way street comparable to any urban city. There are strings of cafes, "do-it-yourself" shops, boutiques, and of course little markets or grocery stores. The market I stop in at every morning is what most people here call "The Arab". Not only do I myself find that title extremely offensive, but it's clearly politically incorrect. I understand the joke, or the stereotype, but it doesn't make it right. So, I will just call it my friendly Boulevard Saint Michel fresh-fruit market and petit grocery store.

Perusing the outdoor market baskets, I pick up my usual, a Gala apple and maybe a peach or two. I've gotta stock up on cheaper-priced snacks for the day ahead of me. I notice the wind pick up on this chilly Parisian morning so I quickly choose my fruits and step into the little store, eyeing the candy to my left while greeting the dark brown man to my right, behind the counter, with a friendly, "Bonjour!"

I set down my fruits and tell him, "C'est tout!" when a little girl catches the corner of my eye. Very innocent in nature, of course she is afterall a little girl. Probably about four years old, wearing two curly shoulder lengthed dark brown pigtails, which complimented her dark skin and deep brown eyes. A splash of contrast hits my eyes when I notice her bright pink shirt and electric blue leggings. Clearly someone's mom knows how to dress their child.

But today it wasn't a long stare or a playful smile that caught my attention, it was the chocolate flavored popsicle she was sucking on...at 9 in the morning. I checked my running watch to make sure it was for one, still working and two, to see if I was running late and somehow it was already noontime. No-- it was definitely 9 am. She stared straight up at me, and never once removed the plastic wrapped popsicle from her mouth. I'm not sure at what point she dribbled a little onto her shirt, but I assumed she was just saving it for later.

I knelt down to her eye level, so as not to appear so looming and "scary" in my colorful Parisian scarf, jeans and bright yellow tank top. I softly asked her, "C'est un peu tot pour la glace, non?" She smiled and giggled a little and she turned away and ran behind the counter. I assumed she ran to hide behind her father, who laughed as well. Peeking her head from around his back, the man gave me my total and as I pulled out my credit card-- no cash, he said, "Il faut payer 10 euros minimum." Damn. Gotta buy cookies or juice, or something.

So I ask for a minute while I pick up a few things I think the group at school will like. And like a good little watchwoman of the store, the girl followed me around the two aisles, popsicle in mouth, to ensure I didn't steal any of the precious goods. I grabbed a carton of my favorite cookies and a new juice I hadn't tried before; banana, strawberry & orange, with skim milk blended in too. When I caught glances with the girl, she ran into the other aisle, her giggles trailing behind her. I dumped the goods onto the counter and hoped it would be enough. But suddenly I felt a little breeze, not from outside on the street, but from right behind me. And the little girl whipped herself around me and back behind the counter again.

I waited for her to pop her head out from behind son pere, and when she did I stuck out my tongue to strike back. She removed the popsicle, only for a second, to stick her tongue out too. And when the man told me I still needed another Euro, I said, "Ah, what the hell, it's 5 o'clock somewhere" and turned to grab some French candies. I figured if she could eat sugar this early in the morning, then I could too. When in Paris, right?

So I knelt down once more and told the girl to enjoy her treat and I would enjoy my bonbons on the way to school. I collected my things and started to head for the door, wishing the man behind the counter a wonderful day and hoped he would stay warm. The little girl in the pink shirt and blue leggings followed me to the edge of her father's store, sucking silently on her popsicle, watching as I left to start my day. Little did she know, I left a little piece of my childhood with her as I pulled out my sugar coated candies, looked into the sky and breathed in the bright blue sky.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Centre Pompidou: Modern Art Collections

Les Promesses du Passe:

I don't think people give Modern Art enough credit, myself included. I think it's probably because the art itself requires a tremendous amount of understanding and reflection. The same holds true for other forms of art. The relationship between the artist and the movement at the time are completely intertwined. Because Modern Art can have so many topics or faces, it is much easier to ignore the artists' thought processes, than to take a minute and recognize the artist has an opinion, and a strong one at that.

Every movement of art has at least one thing in common...they were dictated by present day events, or maybe events that just recently took place. If an entire country faces new political structures, or harsh economic conditions, of course the ideas of teh people will change. The politically active will strike or speak out, the writers will whip out a pen or open their MacBooks...and the artuists will-- create, whatever they want. They all sit back & reflect, decide their opinions and choose a side, yay-or-nay. Then, they get to work.

Some choose to capture the moment and let the viewer decide for themselves, while others take the more active role and put their entire sources of energy into a piece that a view might not even like. But the point is not for everyone to like a novel, an article or a black and white photograph, the point is to express and to express true to one's own thoughts.

And while I think speaking to one another is pertinent to understanding another human being, languages will never be Universal", but artwork certainly can be.


Tous Ensemble, 1995

"Painting is not a metaphor for internal life. That is something I don't want from painting. In a way, it is rather a commentary on the world that I see. I would like that my paintings offer someone outside of myself the feeling of life's possibilities, that it awakens the energy to face, to confront things. There are all these roads, all these possibilities available. Except that each painting is nevertheless closed, isolated." --Shirley Jaffe


#172- Gallieni, Marie-Noelle Decoret, 2000

Black & White Photography.

Simplistic in nature. But it calls for a deeper thought process, one that makes you fill in the blanks to see the whole image. It may lack in color detail, but it calls more attention to the story beneath the image.


My Flower Bed, 1962

"Le seul moyen d'echapper a ces choses-la, etait tout m'interrogent sur ce qu'elles pouvaient etre, de les representer visuellement" --Yayoi Kusama

Friday, June 18, 2010

Those Familiar Baby Blues

There are few things in life more comforting than a big pair baby eyes staring up at you from inside of a stroller. And when those happy, sparkling eyes are paired with a toothless grin and a sometimes stuck out tongue, the combination is impossible to resist.

Today when I stepped on the Metro at Chatelet to go to Centre Pompidou, I noticed a younger woman struggling to get situated with her normal sized red stroller. The baby inside was fussing a little, but nothing alarming. So she bounced the stroller a little bit to get him to calm down, and she tried to hang a jacket over the edge of the stroller to maybe block whatever was in his visual perameters-- just typical Mom things to do to make your baby calm down. I hadn't seen her little boy yet as the stroller was facing away from me, but I could tell by his soft whimpers and almost playfully toned cries, he wasn't a pain in the butt baby I've seen a lot of lately.

But soon a few more passengers stepped on, politely moving past the woman and her baby, never looking into the stroller to note the precious cargo eyeing every one who passed by. A few bumped the stroller and quickly said, "Pardon" or "Je m'excuse" but after that, their days continued. The paper still had to be read, a metro-appropriate novel was flipped open, and iPhones were pulled out for entertainment. Since this was the first stop on the Line 11 Metro at Chatelet, I assumed a lot of the passengers had a long way to go.

When the doors shut, the Mom had the opportunity to resituate herself once everyone else had either taken a seat, or who, like me, grabbed onto a pole and just eased into the ride. As she moved the stroller around, I subtly changed my position on the train so I could peer inside to get a look at what was making such cute sounds.

I peeked around the corner of the stroller cover and was greeted by these large blue baby eyes. But these weren't just any blue eyes. Most of the time, when someone says "baby blue" you think of a very light, but brightly toned, blue. Almost like sky blue but with more color variation because it's an eye. These were not baby blue. Well, they were baby blue, but not baby blue. Instead, they had this richer quality to them, with subtle hints of grey and darker blue. But the grey helped maintain their lightness quality, rather than being a darker blue like most adults have. They were simply gorgeous.

After already being thrown off by him having such mature looking eyes, I realized the metro had suddenly become much quieter when we locked glances. His mouth closed, and he just breathed softly. Of course I smiled a little, wondering how this baby could stare at me for so long with such amazement. I couldn't tell if he was a subtly flirting baby, or if he was intrigued by me, but I could tell he was deep in thought. So I stuck my tongue out and watched as he opened his mouth a little bit as if to mimick my motion. Not quite to that age though. So then I expected a little giggle, or something along the lines of flirting. Instead he just closed his mouth again and recommenced the stare.

Almost afraid his mother would think I was staring at her child for too long, I looked away every few seconds, all the while the little one maintained his stare. I couldn't help but think it was a sign, and a great one at that. You can't ever go wrong with a pair of baby blues, so it must be a great sign. And I know in my heart it's a great sign I can carry with me.

And like I said, there are few things more comforting than a pair of baby eyes, and while that's true-- there are few things more inspirational than a sign of fate on the metro. The metro stop I got off at approached far too soon, because all I wanted to do was figure out what he was trying to tell me. But I decided I had figured out enough, waved to him goodbye and wished his mother good health as I stepped off the train and into the Parisian wind. I knew it would be a great start to an even greater afternoon.

Good ol' baby blues.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Les Langages

Since I've arrived in France, I've made every effort to communicate with the French. The language barrier was very hard for me in Austria, and I felt very much like an outsider. I could tell when a restaurant owner grew frustrated with me and I didn't even know how to apologize for not understanding him. But in Paris, I've been able to introduce myself, strike up a conversation and even dive into a rather intricate discussion. I've talked about my tattoos, discussed President Obama, and even asked people what they think of America. Sometimes it gets me into trouble, but we can usually come to some sort of agreement that not all Americans agree with the war and the world-wide destruction our country is causing on a daily basis.

But because I can communicate here, I can make it known I'm not just a loud tourist, drinking at the cafes with my friends. The French are able to see I am a student, diligent in my studies, and willing to learn about the culture. And while the men here are much more forward with females than in the US I've been able to handle myself. And in Austria, if the men had been the same way, it would have been much harder to do. I love being able to understand other people and hear their thoughts on the world and the latest news.

On the buses, the metro, and in the streets I pick up little tidbits of conversations, and while I don't always understand the idiomatic and slang phrases, I can get the jist of the conversation and be able to form my own conclusions. Yesterday I heard a bunch of Italian women speaking at the bus stop, and all I wanted to do was enter the conversation and see what they were talking about. I'm sure some of it was about me, because I saw four or five of them looking at me and then talking. Whatever. Let them talk. Either way, I was inspired to further my knowledge of languages.

The past few months, after working at Ponce Middle, I wanted to learn Spanish so I could communicate with my Hispanic students in the future, but now moreso than ever I want to study Spanish, and Italian so I can travel to these countries and understand the people. German isn't as beautiful, but I'm confident that if I study hard enough the language itself won't be that hard to learn.

I try to live my life through understanding other people, and if I can't communicate with them or don't follow what they say, then I miss a large amount of their being. Something else to add to my life's goals.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

French Denny's = 24 Cafe with A Better Menu + Wine

The past few days have been filled with activity after activity. I think I'm finally catching up on sleep though. Thursday evening I went out with Joseph, Caitlin, Corrinne, Martin & Adrienne. We met up at the Saint Michel fontain and hung out at a cafe for a little while, people watching. The girls ordered a bottle of Rose Wine and as we were all talking, crossing conversations over the table, a man approached us on the street and just asked where we were from and how we were enjoying ourselves. We found out he was a Moroccan immigrant who had just received his Visa saying he could stay in France and was very very excited. He was also very very drunk. He was dressed pretty sharply though. A grey beanie on his head, I was lovin' it, with a light brown blazer, dark brown sweater underneath with a colored tie. He was probably about 60 years old.

I told him I was very happy he got to stay in Paris because life was beautiful here and his eyes brightened up and he reached out to clasp my hands in his and kissed them, saying God Bless you. And then when we finally released them after about 15 seconds of awkwardness, I jokingly said so I guess that means we're married now, right?? And he said oh yes of course, my second wife how wonderful! And he went in to kiss both my cheeks. Naturally the cameras come flying out and we all start taking pictures of the scene, and it is very clear he is trying to kiss my lips in the photos, while I am terrified trying to politely back away from him. So that is the story of my Moroccan husband.

Needless, to say, but I will say it anyway, we left the Moroccan man to find a new place to hang out. The cafe/bar we arrived at had a piano playing American music and a woman probably about our age, singing Whitney Houston songs, very monotone and off pitch, which was hilarious to us. We grabbed a few menus and started to look at what was available at 12:30 am. All of the drinks had something to do with sexuality, or living a sexy lifestyle. So we quickly looked for the dirtiest drink names and made sure it was something we would actually enjoy drinking. Most of them were very fruity drinks, not so strong, but we just got a kick out of ordering them from the very serious waiter. And when they came to our table they had sparklers sitting inside, illuminating the entire outdoor bar. The servers were cheering and soon all the tables around us were clapping too, I guess that's something they do here for sparkler filled sexual drinks.

After our slightly embarassing sit at the outdoor bar, the four remaining amigos decided to head somewhere we could dance. We saw this brown bar down the street, with lights pouring out onto the pavement from inside and decided to check it out. Inside Joseph and I immediately recognized the Hispanic House Techno music from Miami so we knew it was a Salsa Bar. Stepping inside they motioned us directly to the bar, I guess that's your cover charge for entering a place where they have music. The bartender was happy we spoke French to him and made us all mojitos. So we talked to him for a little while then decided to wander around and check the place out. The dance floor was a scene I had never experienced. Couples were dancing, facing each other, moving as one. They weren't always touching hands or hips but somehow they flowed perfectly, feeling every beat the song produced. So we joined in! Joseph taught us the basic salsa moves and away we went. Just dancing together, changing dance partners, moving around the dance floor. It was strange, I felt at one with the music, moreso than I've ever felt at a party in Miami and it was so much better this way.

Because the bartender was so nice to us before, we decided to ask him if there was somewhere we could go get food and come back, because by this point none of us had eaten in about 8 hours. He said the bar was closing soon but if we waited he would take us to a smaller bar we could sit in a booth at to listen to music and then we would go to a cafe for some omelettes or sandwiches. So we got to know him a little bit and he asked us about the program we were involved in. He is one of the darkest black men I have ever seen, and he was covered head to toe in black. A black bandana, with a black teeshirt and eventually a black leather riding jacket, black jeans and black boots. Plus he shaved his side burns and eyebrows so they appeared to have been scratched by some kind of wild cat. And his nose was pierced. But he was as gentle as can be. And when we walked by this gang of street dancers who had been harassing me all night, he handled the situation perfectly, told us when to start running and he stayed back a little to keep them away from the girls.

So at this 24 hour cafe, which we later named the classy Denny's we ordered omelettes, croque monsieurs and bread. I think Martin ordered a beer. Mind you, this is around 5 am, and we see specks of sunlight rising over the Seine river. The bartender had to go, and it just so happened to be his birthday, so after we paid the check we decided to walk along the river and see Notre Dame when the sun rised. So we jumped down the stairs to walk right up next to the river, and started marching to the French National Anthem. Around 6 am people start to pass by and join in on our singing, and then in the Seine Martin and I noticed a small bank that housed a few shiny coins. SO we slipped off our rain-soaked shoes and hopped in. Why not, right? When in Paris. I'm pretty sure it's illegal to wade in the Seine River, but there wasn't really anyone around and anyone who was up on the bridge was just watching us for giggles. Then we hiked up the stairs again, continuing our marching brigade and walked over the cobblestones of Notre Dame.

The sky had turned this beautiful blue color and the sun was high in the sky. Earlier in the week I had been terrified of what I learned about the architecture of the church, learning about how it was supposed to educate the illiterate and scare them into being moral. But this morning we had the church to ourselves. No teacher, no lecture, just bright skies and a tune to dance to. So we danced around the cobblestones, reliving the salsa club and dreaming of going to a Parisian ball while we're here. And then I decided to watch the clouds go by for a few minutes. Deciding what each cloud looked like we all discussed heading our seperate ways soon so we could sleep for a few hours before class. There weren't many classes to attend but since it was Friday that meant we were going to see an Absurd play at the theatre after class. So we parted ways, vowing our wolfpack would see each other soon enough. Joseph walked me home and we rested a few hours before art history class at the Louvre.

I'll save everyone a tremendously lengthy post and write about Friday & Saturday tomorrow morning. A bientot, my homework is calling my name.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Rain in France

The rain here isn't like it is at home. Sure there are grey clouds covering the sky that cast shadows on murky puddles, and people bustle down the street with their rain jackets and umbrellas just the same. But I've noticed in Paris the rain just doesn't drip down on top of umbrellas and rooftops, it falls on the heads of a countless number of homeless people. We can all spot a homeless man on the street. They have the "typical look", long hair, a couple of missing or damaged teeth, and tattered layered clothing. There's usually a bottle in a paper bag sitting next to him on one side and either a cup for donations or a dog on his other. It's not a hard scene to find.

What I think a lot of people don't notice while they hurry along the street to their corner office buildings is that the rain only affects their life for a moment. Maybe ten minutes at the most. Between taking public transportation and wearing some kind of rain gear, they only get wet for a very short amount of time. I personally like walking in the rain, there's something refreshing about such a pure element falling on top of me I can't help but smile. I generally don't walk into a building after choosing to walk bare-headed in the rain complaining about the weather and how my hair is ruined. Hair never falls the same way twice so why would I expect it to stay the way I place it before leaving my room? It's not a feasible request.

But for someone who doesn't have a brush, access to a haircut, or maybe not even a secure cover from the rain, the homeless have a much bigger say in how the rain affects their lives. So, while people run down the street, newspaper in hand, racing to catch the bus that's about to leave, even though the next one will inevitably arrive in three minutes time, they cease to notice the suddenly greater number of homeless people wandering the street. They wander without shoes, sometimes with soaking wet socks, looking for a vendor who will allow them to rest on the stoop for a few minutes. Most of the restaurant and grocery store owners look them up and down and tell them to move on. The parks aren't dry enough to sit under a tree and all of the benches are exposed to the crying skies.

At the end of La Rue du Val de Grace, there is a homeless man I have seen every day since the day I arrived who sits on the bench all day long. Sometimes he stands up to stretch his legs, or is laying down taking a nap. But when he begins to greet someone, or lay his head down, something strange takes over his body. I'm not sure if it was from an accident, a disease, or what-- but his head cocks to the side and almost rotates his chin clear up to the sky. The first time I saw it, I was a little scared but then I took a closer look and realized he is smiling the whole time. I'm sure it's so he doesn't scare people walking by, but I see something more genuine about his smile. It could just be how I see the world in general, but the past few days I've felt bad because I know the cafe owner doesn't necessarily want him sitting on the bench next to his establishment, but it's clear this man isn't an insane drinker and has nowhere else to go. So this morning I saw him walking around while I ran by, his socks were soaked, and it was evident his coat had been rained on all night long. But he just paced the street, wearing a dry smile.

Walking back up the road to school I stopped in a Boulangerie and ordered a Croissant au beurre and a Croissant au chocolat. I paid the man 1.80 Euros and grabbed the paper bag. Stepping back out into the rain, I opened my umbrella to protect my iPod and felt the warmth of the bag in my hands. I started to smile a little as a Brett Dennen song started, "Aint No Reason". It's a very, very powerful song, and usually has the ability to bring tears to my eyes with just one line. But it's inspiring nonetheless. So I told myself it had to be a good sign the song came on shuffle as I was about to give this man some breakfast.

I turned the corner and touched his shoulder and said, "Bonjour Monsieur, c'est un croissant au beurre et un croissant au chocolat que j'ai achete pour vous." He started to grab the bag and asked me to repeat myself. So I did and he replied, "Ah, merci mademoiselle c'est gentil mais non je ne peux pas les accepter." My heart sank and I replied with "Non, ce sont les croissants pour vous. S'il vous plait, il pleut maintenant, je voudrais vous aider un peu." And it went on for a few more seconds until he placed the bag back in my hands and held them for a second as he thanked me again.

There aint no reason things are this way, it's how they always been and they intend to stay. So I held the bag of croissants and walked away from the man. My heart continued to drop and I felt tears well up. I understand he probably felt like a charity case, but it's those times when I feel the most helpless. Not that I'm helpless, but that I don't know what to do to make a difference. Maybe it's silly to think that I can change a person's life by buying them one meal for one day.

The wind blows wild and I may move, the politicians lie and I am not fooled. You don't need no reason or a three piece suit to argue the truth. It seems overwhelming at times to think that just one person can make a difference, can reach out and change something. Today feels like one of those days. The rain rolls down the window of my classroom, my apartment room-- my shelter. But what about those who aren't as fortunate as I am? The rain rolls down their damp clothing, their faces, and when it reaches the roots on their scalp it sends chills down their spine.

Two croissants don't change much in the eyes of a homeless man and maybe that was his reasoning for not accepting them. I'm a firm believer in Aesop's quote, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." And maybe it's easier for someone who has belongings, a shelter to run to from the cold, and the ability to perform such small acts of kindness, to see how successful they can be. But in the eyes of someone who has nothing, and who wouldn't be able to return the favor, the croissants might taste bitter. It's like when Charlie opened the chocolate bar present and didn't find a golden ticket. It wasn't an answer to his problems, it was just a bar of chocolate. Bitter, and almost useless.

So the rain continues to fall, and the number in my head grows as I count more and more homeless people walking down the street, holding themselves closer to keep warm each time a cold drop hits their body. Hopefully the sun will come out, even if just for a few minutes to warm the heart and soul of those who need it the most.

I can't explain why we live this way, we do it every day.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Les Restaurants du Coeur

Setting: Rue Montparnasse around 9:15 pm. The sun still sits high in the sky, but a cool breeze runs through the streets as vendors leave their boutiques and grocery stores. The cafes are just starting to light up, while people chat quietly over wine and cheese plates. I cross the street diagonally when I see the ATM I desperately need to visit after four days of being without a single Euro. I see a few people standing in line, patiently clutching their debit cards like they would clutch a new born, casting sideways glances every few seconds at the homeless man sitting on the windowsill nearly five feet from the ATM.

He must be about 45 years old with long wirey hair that stands on end, mostly a dark grey color with some shades of salt and pepper. His beard is basically the same, long and wirey with a blend of darker grey shades. He's wearing old nikes that are starting to tear at the toes, a pair of ripped light blue jeans and a navy blue jacket you would most likely wear at the end of winter or early spring. Normally I would probably behave just as the others in front of me were behaving-- a little fearful that he would beg for money or approach me while at the machine, with no where to run. But tonight I notice something else. A group of people hopping out of a small mini-van and approaching the man. A tiny bumpersticker on the back of the van's window reads: Les Restaurants du Coeur.

I'm a little confused, so I take my time walking up to the ATM so I can try to watch the scene unfold. Were they intervening psychologists helping the homeless? Were they escorting people to a soup kitchen? Or were they just counselors? No, none of the above. They were just four or five people standing around the homeless man carrying on a conversation. They asked him about his life, if he had any family, and what he liked to do with his time. But then I noticed a plastic bag sitting next the man on the windowsill. The bag had a label identical to the bumpersticker on the van. My answer had arrived: the group was delivering food to the needy.

I should have realized when I saw the van park abruptly, turn on its hazards and the group hop out to greet him. But by this point I am so amazed that a group of people have stopped what they were doing to give this man a meal. All I can think about is driving around Miami with two extra pizzas from the SAAC Meeting, looking for a needy-person to give them to. And then I think about how touched the woman we found on US-1 was to receive such a big meal from a passing car. And even though we didn't even stop to chat, I remember seeing her eyes lit up and a smile beginning to form as she thanked us and yelled "God Bless You!".

I was moved to see that an organization exists in France doing just what I've always wanted to do, change the world one heart at a time. Maybe the man receiving the food was used to such a service by now, or maybe it really did touch him that someone was reaching out to a man who was just down on his luck.

When I returned to the apartment, still wearing a grin the size of Texas, I plopped down on my bed and opened up my two best online friends, Google & Wikipedia. I found out the organization began in 1985 by a comedian by the name of Coluche and it now consists of one national organization and over 100 other specialized departments. Everyone is a volunteer and the organization accepts donations for buying food and delivering it to the needy. The volunteers are not only trained for interactions with the people, but they are trained to welcome people who may or may not be ready for help, performing culturally productive activties to reintroduce people into the community, and even managing one of the travelling restaurants. The donors, both big and small, are also given a tax break. Currently the service project has spread to Belgium and Germany where it has been growing for a few years.

Two hours later I am still amazed at how giving some people can be. For me, I would rather give someone a sandwich or a cup of hot soup, than to just drop my cold pennies into their cup. I know money rules the world, but you don't invite friends over to give them money to go to McDonalds for a snack wrap. You invite them over to give them something more, some kind of nourishment. And its not just a physical nourishment, it's an act of consciously giving to someone and in my eyes that is much more meaningful.

So no, I don't drop pennies into beggars' hats. I cross the street, buy a few croissants for the same amount of change I would've dropped in a cup, and dodge traffic once again. Then I squat down or do whatever I need to do to be at their eye level, and let them know I'm there for human interaction. To let them know they don't need to bow their heads in shame because they live on a street while I live in a house, and drive a car. For that one moment in time I set aside from my own personal agenda, when I'm giving them something they truly need, I want them to know it comes from a human being who empathizes with their situation. My wish is that they see they're not alone on this planet. There is such thing as a human being who truly cares.

And that's why I was so inspired by the company's purpose and how the volunteers interacted so generously with the man. Whether or not he realizes their compassion, I do. And I only hope to be as inspiring for someone else one day.

Monday, June 7, 2010

La vie est belle, non?

Premier jour des cours! I was brutally awakened by a Charlie horse in the middle of the night so my plans to go for a nice morning run were temporarily put on hold and I opted to sleep a little longer. So I woke up around 9, jumped in the shower and joined Elisa for some breakfast. I wasn't very hungry after last night's late night excursion with the group to the Louvre where 9 people shared 3 bottles of wine, always a good choice. So instead I had some hot black and orange tea and a little apple juice and got to know Madame Dru's 26 year old actress of a daughter. She has very dark hair and usually pins it back in very intricate ways. Today it was almost french braided but twisted into these loops and bobby pinned down. She had on a V-Neck polka dot shirt and some southern style pants that had a nice crocheted material on the hips and flowed down to her ankles where they tied into a bow. She speaks a little English with a heavy accent but her French is beautfiul and she knew to speak a little more slowly for me as she explained her weekend adventure. She was in the premier of this ironic play that acted out over the top advertisements with a dark twist, and between each of these advertisements there was almost an intermission where the actors shared a story and you found out their relations. It sounded interesting enough and she seemed pleased with how the audience reacted. After breakfast I bid Elisa and Madame Dru "Tchao!" and found my way to the Sweet Briar Office.

For me, it is easiest to walk to class because the metro is a little to the side and won't take me any closer, so I walked along a main road called Rue de Saint Michel and took in the morning sounds of Paris. There were people strolling along the street with a mug of caffe in their hands, people resting on benches reading the newspaper. And of course a few librairies and boutiques were just opening their doors. Kind of ressembled Miami with how few people seemed to be at work, but there is much less traffic and a slower pace of walking. I cut through the Parc de Luxembourg and walked down La Rue Fleurus to find building 34 and got there around 10:50 for orientation at 11. We sat down in one of the classrooms and were handed a new itinerary, a European cell phone, so petit and adorable. All the girls were given a shiny purple phone and the boys a much sleeker black one. Then they handed out a short book, and told us this Friday we would be seeing an Absurb Play in the Latin Quarter and should read the play before attending so we can follow along. It's only one act and should be a quick read, plus I find the Absurb rather amusing so I'll dive in a little bit this evening and continue throughout the week. The directors are all very nice, speak wonderful French of course and are only strict about us speaking French while in the Sweet Briar school and on their excursions.

After orientation the group left for a pique-nique dans le parc de Luxembourg. I pulled out Evan's camera and took a few pictures of the park-goers, sans shoes, pieds aux chaises, just living a relaxed life over a baguette and a good novel. The sky was bright and blue, with a few white clouds but it was lovely in the shade. A nice breeze flows through the park along the paths. So we ate lunch for a little while, joked about a few things that happened last night and along the way to Paris, and a few people mentioned their plans for after Sweet Briar. Since we had our first Expression Francaise class at 2, everyone dispersed around 1 to explore a little bit and then head back to Sweet Briar. Joseph and I went to a little cafe so he could get something else to eat and we had a glass of wine.

Alors, Aventure avec Joseph #2:
--Never walk inside of a cafe (the restaurant part of the cafe) during lunchtime and try to only order a glass of wine.
We didn't realize the waiter would be upset if I just sipped a little wine so I quickly ordered a slice of peach tart and apologized for the confusion. We talked about classes and cafes we had noticed along the way and our desperate need to go to a good Pharmacie for shampoo and facial products.
--Do not wear your sunglasses indoors in Paris. It draws attention to you and the French hate extra attention
I had to explain to Joseph that he stuck out like a sore thumb when he wore his sunglasses inside so he quickly removed them and we continued our meal. But hey, at least we're figuring these unwritten/unspoken rules out sooner than later, no?

After our adventure at the cafe, we had a few extra minutes to step inside some pharamacies to browse around and collect ideas for the kinds of things we wanted. For example, I conditioned my hair with a jasmine and eucalyptus oil mixture, which I would never see in the US for less than 40 dollars a bottle, if at all.

Then we made our way back to the 7th floor of the building for class. Madame Mellado arrived at exactly 2 pm and when she walked in we were greeted by a woman with deep reddish hair, a little wirey but wavy to her shoulders, wearing bright red liptick accompanied by a green jacket and rose colored shirt underneath. Her pointed toed shoes matched her shirt and her accessories dangled from her neck, ears and wrists. Probably around 50 years old she came in excited as can be, asking us our names and how our picnic went earlier in the day. Wasting no time we started talking about how the class would go for the next four weeks. She wants to cover idiomatic phrases in French with us because that is really how we will improve our writing and sound convincing. Secondly she wanted to fix small grammatical problems along the way without taking the conventional grammar route. And thirdly she wants to rid us all of our horrific anglaicismes! So hopefully by the end of these four weeks I will have mastered a few useful French idioms and abolished a few bad habits.

The first thing we learned was how to properly say at the same time in French. Bon, easy enough right? She gave us all a sentence to write first in English, and then we would translate into the French. Par exemple, We arrived at the same time --> Nous sommes arrives en meme temps. And we went around and read our sentences and then discussed what was right and what was wrong and why. She kept saying she would throw us out the window and when we were all wrong she slammed her fist on the desk and yelled, "Niecht!" of course she was joking and said it was normal for us to not know the idioms right away. We talked about how to say "The more I....the more I..." in French, saying "As a..." and how there is no neutral pronoun in French so you have to resort to the masculine form when you are referring to an unidentified object. Example, when you say nobody, or something, or someone, etc. And finally we talked about how to figuratively say "I can't wait!" because in English you don't say it in a proper way, it's figuratively. So naturally we just translate into French and say "Je ne peux pas attendre." but that's too physical of a phrase. So now we say "J'ai hate que..." which is in a sense, I made haste to... So that was our first class. She is wonderful, eclectic and free spirited. Plus her French accent when she speaks English is just incredible. So enunciated and flows smoothly.

Apres class we met up with the other students and took a small tour with one of the directors. We walked around la 6eme arrondissement and then turned and found ourselves in the midst of la 5eme arrondissement. We walked around the boutiques, learned about different Cathedrals and saw how afternoon city life functions. We stopped at a fountain and I found myself once again, turned away from the pretty monument all the tourists were taking photos of, snapping away at a street performing musical group. A saxophone violin and I believe guitar were all playing wonderfully together. And that's not always a combination you would expect to work. So I took a few photos and realized I was centered in more than just a few tourists' photos of the Saint Michel fountain, probably appearing to be taking a picture of them. But ah non, ce n'est pas vrai because I was taking pictures of three beautiful lives in motion. La vie est belle, non?

Joseph, Martin, Nico, Alex, Caitlin, Joyce, Sarah and I stopped at Cafe Saint Serverin for a 5 o'clock drink because all day long while we were in class and the few who weren't decided that it was five o'clock somewhere and had divulged in a bottle of wine for 2 Euros. So we split a bottle of Moet Chandon Imperial Rose Champagne and had a very nice bottle service at 5 pm at this little cafe while ancient Cathedrals towered over us, blanketing us with their great history.

"Les fautes sonts toutes anonymes dans ma classe...commes des alcooliques." --Madame Mellado

After we paid our 91 Euro tab we parted our separate ways around 6 pm and Joseph and I decided to try out the 27 line bus to get home. The metro is about 15 minutes from my house, which I don't mind walking but I had already walked so much and the heat was starting to make the champagne bubbles in my stomach settle harshly. So we hopped on the bus, swiped our cards and talked about coming back to this fabulous street to go shopping for shoes and jackets.

When I got home I made myself a little cheese sandwich and laid down until about 8:45 to greet Madame Dru when she came home from work. Adrien was preparing dinner and I went into the living room to meet his friend Gabriel, who is taller than Adrien but has the same scruffy beard and struggling artist look. I'm really starting to enjoy it, and loving this family more everyday. He wore grey pants, covered in paint just as Adrien's and was very pleased to meet me. So we waited for Madame Dru to arrive and then settled into the living room for a green salad, some bread and wine. The conversation was great, we talked about where we were on September 11th and how it affected our lives and the world. And then I got to talk about old President Bushy for a while and knew they share the exact same opinions with me. They really seem to like President Obama over here, which is surprising as times because I know how bourgeoise it can be around here and that tends to be a little more conservative. So it's nice to hear that the American stigma is slowly changing because of our President.

The second course came out, with another glass of wine and Elisa joined us after her nap. We had rice with cooked ground beef and some green beans. Everyone was free to add their own sauce so I added a little soy, Adrien some lemon and curry, Madame Dru un peu de salt and Gabriel and Elisa, nothing. So we continued to talk about latest news, politics, and the topic of fake IDs came up and Adrien thought it was so silly that they ask for ID in the United States for drinking, even when you are with your parents at a restaurant. Ah, la vie est belle, non?

Next came the Camembert cheese with bread. So much food, so many courses! But so much good food. A very, very, very....very smelly cheese. But spread on bread and followed by a little sip of red wine, the cheese is sweet and light. It blends into the bread and the top layer just soaks in the flavor, giving you a longer taste as you chew. I just had a little bit since I ate around 6:45 and this had already been such a big meal. A great meal though, lots of laughs and Adrien as very kind to translate for me when Gabriel and Elisa went off on tangents, though I only needed a few words every once in a while to stay on track. He was very kind to cook dinner, serve to everyone and help me with conversation. And of course Madame Dru was so polite when she corrected my grammar, and I made little notes in my head to write down when I came back into my room.

For dessert we had chocolate and vanilla ice cream, with a few nectarine slices and a shot of Russian vodka poured on top. I was a little hesitant to have pure vodka on my ice cream without much flavor but very quickly I realized the nectarine flavors kind of spilled out over the ice cream and made a Nectarine Vodka syrup. It was wonderful. Such a nice meal, and I didn't even realize we were sitting there for nearly two hours until Gabriel said it was quite late and he should return home to rest for tomorrow's day of work.

So now I retire to my room to read an Absurd play we are seeing Friday night and to write a paragraph with all of our new phrases. Tomorrow I'm hoping to run before class at noon and then go to Expression class and after my first Art History class with Monsieur Pralong-Gourvennec.

Bon soir et bonnes reves!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

God Bless the French Bars.

Joseph and I decided to go out and celebrate our first real night in Paris. So at about 10 pm he strolled by my gated garden and picked me up to head to Marais (the 4th district) to check out the Gay Bars and general bar scene. I normally walk swiftly. Even in 4 inch stiletto heels. But Joseph? ...walks at the speed of light. Mind you, we are walking in perfect day light at 10:15 pm trying to find the metro. Going up and down on the uneven curbs, all cobblestone pavements. So I kept up and soldiered on through the cobblestone until we found the metro at about 10:30. We found a seat and waited until we got to Chatelet, a major hub for other metro stations. Because I live in a smaller part of Paris I have to connect to a lot of different metros to get across the river. So we got to Chatelet in the middle of a conversation about our host-families and jumped on the next metro. Stepping out of the metro station and into the twilight, we realized the sun was finally setting around 10:45 pm. But the bright lights of the clubs and cafes had long since been illuminated when the dinner and happy hours begun around 8 pm.

Stopping at a little cafe to catch up about our summer adventures, we sat at a small table outside and ordered a bottle of Vin Rose and a couple of waters. The conversation sped up, diving into current and past relationships, family situations, and plans for next year. I think the ladies next to us were a little mortified with how much the two of us were talking. There wasn't a moment of silence and when the bottle was about half way gone there was no stopping us. Joseph ordered an espresso to wake him up a little, after arriving Friday afternoon he was still a little jet-lagged. Then we walked back down the main road to see what kinds of clubs were opening. It was so nice to be able to make eye contact with all the men in tight tank tops and beautifully crafted leather shoes and not worry about being hit on or made to feel uncomfortable by comments.

We found our first club and realized there was no cover charge to get in (which is unlike anything I've ever seen in the US) and we stepped inside to find blue lights streaking over a small dance floor and a glowing bar to the right which had a lovely oiled up man dancing on top of it wearing a silver motorcycle helmet and no shirt. Ecstatic about not having to pay a cover, Joseph ordered us each a glass of champagne to toast the beginning of our adventures in Paris. "A la votre!" we yelled as our glasses clinked and we took a sip. Ah, sweet champagne in Paris.

We danced for a few minutes to get a feel for if this was a popular club and we noticed a lot of lesbians and a few older men. One in particular was doing some kind of Tai Chi while dancing so I said what the hell and when Joseph excused himself for a cigarette, I started to dance with the man too. He grabbed my face, kissed both cheeks lightly and said, "Tu es tres belle ma jolie, et si j'aime les femmes tu peux etre ma preferee." Then he held my hands and said "Merci pour la danse." And shook them. So weird. Yet, kind of cute at the same time. We decided the club was a success and moved on to the next one.

The first club we saw on the street had a lot of people standing outside so thinking it was a line to get in we decided to stand in it to get some fresh air. What we realized after was it was just people enjoying their drinks outside. So we stepped inside, and noticed there were maybe five people. I looked up at the ceiling and saw fishing nets and life rings and a lot of beach equipment that oddly resembled Boardwalk in Miami. Not quite the setting I expected after seeing a very chic orange siding outside with a crisp font centering the club's name, Le Cox. (How inventive.) Still confused as to why there was no one inside, we headed to the bar to order another champagne. Then we realized. No champagne. And the bar tenders were not cute. C'etait incroyable! So instead we opted for the classiest of all American drinks, the Red Bull-Vodka. We stepped back outside and by this point we have four dialects being used between us. (1) French, (2) English, (3) French with an American accent and (4) English with a French accent. There was no particular reason for the dialects, but we used them pretty freely and interchangeably.

All of the sudden our ears perked up like a lost puppy in the woods and we both said, "I hear American!" We found a group of guys speaking English and decided to see where they were from. One, who is in Paris for business, is from D.C. and the other was from Chicago (Sox fan, so I said we could be friends.) And then the Chicago man had a British friend visiting and that British man had a British friend too. So we made small talk, asking about school, careers, vacation plans, etc. Then the conversation took a different turn. One that involved a certain horrible policy called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". I know it's a sensitive topic but to hear first stand stories of men whose partners and boyfriends have been discharged from the military and had their entire life affected really hit me hard. I've never agreed with the policy, I think it's insanely cruel and I pray for the day when Obama has finally done away with it. Which I feel will be soon. It was a pleasant conversation nonetheless, to hear a different perspective. But after we finished our drinks we said Tchao and looked for the next place.

We ordered another round of champagne at a swankier club that had electric light blue lights streaming throughout the bar and the table areas. The house music was of course all the same, fun and upbeat with repetitive lyrics that inevitably stayed in my head the whole night. I went downstairs to find the bathroom and was mortified by what I saw so we made a quick U-Turn to head back upstairs when a blonde-haired, probably blue eyed boy approached us. A boy I had first noticed when we entered the club but Joseph had missed seeing. He joined us for a drink and we found out his name is Mikko, he's from Finland and attends the University of England but has been studying in France for a year. I let him and Joseph talk for a while about their interests and plans for the future, all the while listening closely to see if this would be a winner for Joseph. So far he seemed like a very nice guy. We decided to leave the club to walk for a bit and realized the metro was closed down and wouldn't open again until 5:30 am. But that meant the bars were closing soon too. Luckily, Mikko had the chance to do his night-life homework for the past 8 months and took us to a club that stayed open all night. Too bad this one didn't allow females in the club. So coming to my defense, Joseph and Mikko cursed the bouncer for being discriminative and we marched further on to another place.

Here I found the most straight men I had seen all night. Another round of champagne and a few Lady GaGa songs later, I found myself standing next to a windowed room where a man in a firefighter's outfit was taking a shower and brushing his teeth. I thought these things only happened in movies? I stepped outside into the "fresh" air of Paris to catch my breath and talk to the bouncer. We talked about Miami and Italy a little bit. Then a man came up to me and asked about my tattoos. Ten minutes later I was in a deep and extremely "important" conversation about Fate and at this point my French was parfait and any nerves I usually have about speaking were fading far into the distance. The man asked where I was from and I said America, and he didn't believe it. He said, "Non c'est impossibe, tu parles bien francais." Coming from a Frenchman that is one of the best compliments I have received. Then we talked about tattoos and piercings in general, a very strange conversation but alarmingly entertaining at the time when Joseph and Mikko found me and said they were ready to leave and would pay for the cab ride back. So at about 4:30 am I made my way back to Madame Dru's, took my stilettos off to walk up the twisted staircase and managed to unlock the door in complete darkness. I don't suppose the French like interior lighting much, so I used the indiglo light on my watch to find the keyhole. Very peculiar, these French are.

I put my aching, blistered feet up and read a few emails, enjoyed a bowl of cold spinach pasta and drifted off to sleep. This morning it burned to shower, the wounds on my feet still tender to the touch. God Bless the French Women and their ability to walk 4 miles in heels without blistering. I'll get back to that point soon enough, track and field had me out of practice from wearing running shoes all the time. I met the rest of the group today over drinks at a cafe. There is a wide variety of students and I talked with one girl from Doylestown, PA a lot this afternoon. I think she and I will have a lot of fun together too, especially because she is living in the 6th district, very close to me.

I gave Madame Dru her Saint Louis gifts tonight over a piece of quiche and salade verte. They came from a very nice shop at Chesterfield Mall, where much of the materials used are recycled and the artists are local. She thought the bookmark was beautiful but maybe too heavy to use in a book, or too fragile. So she decided to put it on her wall of memories as the time she shared with "Her Lauren" Bon! I am now officially on Madame Dru's Wall of Utter Awesomeness!!! And she loved the tea light candle holder, she thought it looked like a Lily flower and when she put a candle inside it glowed so nicely on the tabletop. You could see little bits of the flame flicking with the breeze entering the kitchen window.

The Sweet Briar gang made plans to meet tonight in front of the Louvre to walk around and get to know each other a little bit. I don't think it will turn out to be as eventful of an evening as last night with Joseph, but then again one can only hope for such a thing when you're in a city as fabulous as Paree.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How do you call it en Anglais?

24 hours in Paris complete. After sitting in the Charles de Gaulle Aeroport for around let's say forty minutes, contemplating whether or not I had made the right decision to be on my own in Paris for a month, I hailed a taxi and soon found myself flying by the Parisian countryside, on my way to the centre de la ville.

Still nervous about speaking French to everyone I encountered, I curled up on the seat to enjoy the ride while brainstorming some common phrases I could bring up with the taxi driver. "Eh, Madamemoiselle, les chaussures sur la siège, mais qu'est-ce que vous faites??" Shit, already made a mistake. "Oh monsieur, je suis vraiment désolée, c'est un accident, je m'excuse." Apology not accepted. "Mais qu'est-ce que vous pensez?" Tears start to form. "Monsieur, je suis désolée, mais les chaussures sont nouveaux, la siège est parfaite, je vous promets." Still he shook his head and muttered under his breath. I started to cry thanks to my anxious nerves and honest mistake. I always feel bad when I upset someone, and since he clearly felt disrespected by this young American, I felt even worse. So I stared out the window, tears streaming down my face, not daring to move an inch out of fear of him getting angrier. But then we hit traffic. A lot of traffic. Friday afternoon-3 pm- 5 accident, traffic. So after 45 minutes or so, when my eyes were dry but puffy he started to ask about me. We talked about Miami, Paris, University, etc. And by the end, we were doing just fine and I had a good idea of where I was in the city. I sure as hell didn't tip him though. 80 Euros for a cab fare was far enough as is.

So I arrived at 7-9 rue du Val du Grace and stepped inside the first gate. There's a lovely little garden with walkways that lead to the different buildings. Since it was about 90 degrees and I was about an hour late as is, I decided to skip the garden exploration and head for building A to meet Madame Dru on the 5th floor. I rang the doorbell and was welcomed in by a woman a little shorter than I am, wearing black yoga pants, some bohemian sandals, an Eiffel tower tee-shirt and a lightweight black over shirt. Her hair was short, blonde and white in color, and I noticed she wore a pair of golden hoops in her ears, but one was noticeably smaller than the other. So I made a mental note to ask her what the significance was. I also noticed a giant ring on her right middle finger. Very bright green in color, almost egg shaped. Likes ones children can win in prizes from the 25 cent machines. And her green reading glasses hung around her neck on a petite chaine, ready to be placed on her nose at any point in time. Soft greenish bluish eyes popped out at me as she welcomed me into her home.

Her daughter Elisa, sat in the first room on the left, typing away on her Mac Book, smoking a cigarette and sipping some white wine. The hallway from the door is long and each of the rooms breaks off from this one hallway. The next door on the left is my room. Very bright white and clean. There are two desks for me to work at, a large white armoire with sheets and towels and drawers for my belongings. Sitting at the edge of the desk were a spare notebook, a vase of yellow roses and a few writing utensils. Ah, the small things in life. :)

The rest of the apartment is a photographer's dream. A bowl of rings just like the one she had on when I first arrived sitting on a shelf next to a rack of large bangles with a few bottles of Italian cologne d'eau. An entire wall is dedicated to Madame Dru's mementos from her lifetime. A few post-it notes left by her son, Adrien, after long nights out, asking his mother to wake him at certain times. A few photographs hang next to the notes, photos of people who resemble her late mother and father. Then she has odd cartes-postales and maps and drawings she has evidently collected over the years. The stories behind such treasures wait unveiling over the next 30 days. The kitchen door is across the hall from mine, and inside is a small two or three person table, with a fridge, small stove and a wonderful window where Madame Dru grows geraniums, daisies, etc. There are bowls of various fruits sitting next to the window. Again, a photographer's ideal setting, one that they attempt to recreate for their black and white shoots that end up in magazines. Adrien's paintings hang on the wall along with a few other notes and postcards, which surely all have special meanings. There is a toilet closet and a separate room for the shower and sink and washing machine. The apartment is small, but very homey. The eclectic style is just what I've always imagined my apartments (if I live in them) to be like. Books line the walls and where there aren't bookshelves there are places for jewelry or fun dishes or just walls covered in special photos.

My room overlooks a little street and I can see window gardens across from me. The window in the kitchen looks out to other houses and a little walkway or alleyway, I'm not quite sure. But since my window faces north I get a little view of the morning sun and it's just perfect for waking up to.

Adrien, Madame Dru's son, is an artist and lives in the country...most of the time. He's a little taller than I am, with a shaggy beard and walks around in his paint-covered jeans most of the time. He's helping me with my French along with Madame Dru, who both speak English very well. Her daughter, Elisa, is trying to finish up University but is pursuing some type of career/side career in theater and just left for the weekend to go north for a performance. She left the house wearing a black and white polka dot dress and bright white heart shaped sunglasses. Just to give a little visual of how artistic this family is. I adore every bit of it.

Dinner was light, a rice salad with cheese and tomatoes (apparently I eat tomatoes in France?)with some soy sauce and bread. Then we had a bit of chevre and Roquefort cheese. And we ended le diner with strawberries and vanilla ice cream. I was very tired by 9 pm so I retired to my room to read and write for the rest of the night. This morning we had yogurt, granola, toast, and tea for breakfast. I added a few almonds to my yogurt and then we headed out to the market so Madame Dru could show me around. We started off toward the Parc du Luxembourg, this great public park with a gravel trail around it where people jog and walk all day long. The interior of the track is lined with benches and divided shades of grass where people do Tai Chi and yoga. There are a few private tennis courts and a new volleyball court. Madame Dru and I talked about family interaction in places like this, her family, my family, and every kind of literature we liked to read. She showed me how to get to school in the morning, and hooray because it's within walking distance!! Then we went to this video store, one of only two in Paris which holds every kind of movie you can imagine. French films, German films, Japanese, English, etc. All organized by Director's last name. If it's been released, it's in there. So we walked around and talked about how it's not common knowledge for everyone in the U.S. to know director's names, maybe just the title of the film and the major actors starring in it. So hopefully by the end of this trip I'll know a few more than I did before. And there is a wonderful collection of postcards from the 50s, mostly black and white, of candid and planned shots of movie stars. I can't wait to go back and pick out a few to send out.

Then we walked over to la rue Mouffetard where there is a long street of small shops and les librairies (book stores, not a chain) that sell new books and les livres d'occasion (second hand) for pretty cheap. She showed me her favorite cafes and petits restaurants, and bakeries. I found out where she buys her scarves too :) a place called Diwali, not too expensive. But I was advised to wait until June 30 when the sales begin, because everything is very cheap then. But I didn't bring many clothes so I'll need to go shopping at some point! We went to a bakery and bought a couple of slices of Quiche Lorraine and Quiche Chevre Epignard (goat cheese and spinach)and some little sweet tasting rolls (almost as sweet as brioche dough) but are hollow inside and have sugar bits on top. We sliced them in half and filled them with chocolate and vanilla ice cream for lunch. We also bought a piece of flan, she loves cheese cake and flan....how French of her! So then we bought some rotisserie chicken legs and roasted potatoes for lunch and headed back to her apartment. She made a salad and I ate half of a tomato in it, and we talked about life and death and some things in between. Most of the time she speaks to me in English, or mixed French/English and I try speak to her in French, correcting myself in English along the way. I learned how to say pole vaulting :) (Sauter a la perche) And I am a perchiste, or a pole vaulter.

For now we are resting, going to eat dinner around 8 pm and at about 10 I'm going to walk over to le Censier Daubenton to meet Joseph, a boy from my classes in Miami and we're going to venture over to the 4eme arrondissement for the evening. Should be fun.

A bientot et grosses bises,

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Daily Digest (Days 3&4)

:) sorry I stole this subject header from ya...kinda sorta. not really

Anyhow, welcome to the end of Day 4 in Vienna. The past two days have been excitingly exhausting. I don't know how Grandma can manage to do all this! We both eat the same amount and sleep the same amount...which speaks poorly of my energy levels I suppose! But hey, I'm a young growing woman right? Surely I need my rest too!

So yesterday was rainy-- very rainy. But beautiful. Almost like an October fall rain, where the clouds roll in just to cover the sun enough for a chilly afternoon, but the rays can still shine through. Streaks of grey clouds covered the sky and little droplets fell like powdered sugar on top of a dessert. Soft enough to not affect the day, but hard enough to leave a coating on everything it touched. So after breakfast, Grandma sent me on a great adventure to find the International Herald so we could set our agend for the next two days. Well, you can imagine that when rain comes, the newspaper deliverymen don't like to step out of their trucks to deliverit. So I went on a nice wild egg hunt to find this paper that we would be able to read. And along the way I found a nice tourist-like hoodie to stay warm.

When I returned we decided we'd take the morning off exploring and Grandma would finish her spy novel and read about the latest world disasters (Spain going under economically, strains between Israel & Egypt, etc.) and I would get to walk around town, try to find a few 12-letter street names that had hidden historical spots on them, and maybe do some shopping....guess how many of those street names I remembered and then consequently found? Zero. So instead I wandered around the giant Cathedral and turned at each available strasse or grasse (one-way or two-way streets) and just circled around until I found the Cathedral again and took the next turn. I stopped in many shops to get the feel for how expensive clothing is here and the kinds of fashion they wear everyday. I envy their free-spirited minds to mix and match seemingly mismatching outfits. In my eyes, they look fabulous but I know that if I were to walk around the US in a pleated skirt, plaid sweater, turquoise tights, brown boots and a blue zip up hoodie, everyone and their mothers would look at me sideways. Jus' sayin'.

So then I found this little Viennese tea and chocolate shop where the owner happened to make her own jewlery and I was able to taste a few of the chocolates and learn about the flavor varieties for the teas. The women were so helpful I just had to buy a bar of chocolate and a box of tea. How I'm going to get them home intact after 30 days in Paris I have no idea, but we shall see :)

Then I met Grandma promptly at 1 pm and we went to her little tea room where we had a light meal of chicken salad and jellied ham (she got that, meat and jello should never mix in my mind!) Then we headed to the U-Bahn and the street-car to venture up to the Belvedere, this old palace with a beautiful garden. Again, comparing things to my Parisian adventures, this garden looked like something you'd see at Versailles. The pattern of the garden was so clean cut and I'm sure there was a symbolic background, but my German ain't so good these days. (Getting better though! I can read the menu now!) and there are ponds on either side with beautiful statues in the center. Then in the middle of the garden, just as it starts to slope down you catch a sound of running water, where one of the fountains happens to waterfall into an even grander fountain at the bottom of the hill. And it just continues all the way down. There's a center path, and paths on either side of the gardens, decorated with benches and strolling couples, walking hand in hand whispering sweet nothings to each other as if the statues could hear their every word. It was beautiful. And the view of the city was perfect. The skyline was a little hazy, and patches of red rooftops stood out from the tops of the green towering Cathedrals. Of course, if you look for it, you can always see the great Cathedral by our hotel centered in the Graben.

So we went inside the Belvedere, which has been rebuilt into an art museum for 17th and 18th Century Austrian artwork. Grandma specifically wanted to show me Gustav Klimt's work. Much of his paintings were portraits of women with architectural backgrounds that sometimes made them look 3D. Of course the symbolism of his work went right over my head but maybe after a few weeks of training in Paris I'll be able to pick up such secrecies. His work is a little too out-there for my taste, I preferred the pointalism approach by other local artists and the work of another major artist, named Egon Schiele. His scenery paintings were much more realistic, while his portraits had less structure, and a greater grotesque feeling. The faces revealed every detail, every wrinkle and dark spot, showing their darker side. The colors were not as vibrant as the Klimt pieces, but the eroticism behind both artists' work must have been extremely controversial at the time. For Klimt, many of the ladies were either half or completely topless and for Shiele sometimes the scenes were nude altogether.

So after the Belvedere adventure we headed back to the room for some relaxation before dinner. And for dinner we went to the oldest inn in Vienna. It's called the Kupferdachl, and it was one of the more modern places we have ventured. I was a little surpised because so many of the places we have gone have lower ceilings, no central airing, and there is usually a faint smell of beer and cigars that hits us upon entering the doors. At any rate, we were seated immediately and I decided to try a wheat beer tonight since I never tried one in the states. Weizenbier, it was a little heavier but good. And I had gnocchi...not exactly Austrian or German but that's alright I suppose. And to top off my cultural evening I stopped for some Gelato on the way home :)

This morning was beautiful. The sunshine started pouring in our room around 6 o'clock and when we went to breakfast the clouds merely dotted the bright blue sky. After eating our meat and cheese breakfast, accompanied by some heiße schokolade, we started out for the U-Bahn station to head for the Viennese hills/mountain. We took the 38A bus to Corbenzl which has this nice little resort that sits on top of a hill that overlooks most of Vienna. The tree line hits just right so you can look out over everything. The busride continued into the park and up the hills into Kahlenberg where there's a Church and a private International University and a little souvenir shop with an ice cream freezer and a playful dog. Grandma then took the bus down to the Leopoldsberg stop where I would walk down the trail from Kahlenberg to meet her. The trail was paved for me and there were plenty of small flowers, mostly pink and yellow in color, for me to look at. I turned a corner or two and saw this big open field where I could imagine young children running around as their parents sat on a blanket drinking wine, enjoying the Sunday afternoon. The trail follows the road we took to get to the top and when I met up with Grandma at the bus stop, we turned a new way and followed this steep path up to the top of the mountain. There was this old German building that was closed up but had lookout points at every corner. I saw the Danube river, with it's locks and dams and how it crosses over into the Danube Channel as it enters the center city of Vienna. And then we walked a little further down the lookout and I saw in the distance the faint outline of the Czech Republic. I just thought it was amazing. I thought, here I am, 19 years old, helping my Grandma make her last hike up the Viennese hills and I am looking at, for the first time, the Czech Republic. And the sun was shining brightly upon us. Things like that just don't happen everyday. But I digress.

We went back down to the bus stop which had to take us back up to Kahlenberg where I stopped in the little souvenir shop to look at some old postcards and of course to pet the dog. The owner of the shop told me the cards were the last of his friend's collection from the 1970's. I could tell these were old photographs, mostly black and white, but that wasn't how I knew. The clothing and types of photographs were aged, a little outdated and the cardstock for the postcards was a different material, and starting to bend at the edges. I told him I was very interested in black and white photography so he told me all about his friend's old shop in Paris. His English was very good for being so far into the country where not many tourists probably go. So I bought four postcards and thanked him for the lovely conversation. I stepped back out into the sunshine just as "Hey Soul Sister" started playing on the radio, and I could hear the man whistling along as I rejoined my Grandmother on the bus. Great start to the day.

We had lunch at Grandma's coffee house again, I got a vegetable quich and Grandma had some soup. There were these two old ladies sitting in the corner of the shop, just having a wonderful time. There were probably into their eighties, and had most likely known each other for quite a long time. It was about 2 in the afternoon and both of them had suits on, blazers and skirts with some pumps. One was wearing her nicest set of pearls and the other a nice long golden chain. Sipping tea and a tall beer, the two were in non-stop conversation until their food arrived. Then they just dove right in, enjoying every bit of their nourishment. And as they finished, the conversation just picked right up until the waitress came back around. They ordered something, in German of course, and the waitress sped right off and came back with a water, a cafe au lait, and two chocolate desserts. The one woman picked hers right up and bit into it...it was a smaller dark chocolate piece, probably fully rich in flavor and the other kind of laughed at her as she delicately broke a piece of hers off with her fork. A few minutes later I noticed her give a small piece of hers to her friend, insisting she have some, probably cause it was far too much. I'm sure this all seems so drole, but watching them, the best of friends, was just refreshing to see. They have this nice little women's coffee house and bakery to go to and enjoy themselves over a drink, some lunch and a nice dessert. And not only that, but they were dressed to the nines for the occasion. If I live to be that old, I only hope to be so lucky to have a friend to share my afternoons with.

So, we finished up lunch with a strawberry streudel and headed back to the room for a nap before dinner. My legs felt good, but so drained of energy. So I rested and woke up just in time for dinner. We went back to the Gosserklinik where I had a plate of assorted sausages and roasted potatoes. I tried a Pilsner beer with dinner and Grandma had soup and we shared my sauerkraut since I'm not much of a fan. We talked about my five-year plan and where I see myself in the future, in the off-chance that she doesn't stick around to see it. A little sad, but understandable because she wants to make sure her granddaughter has a map for life. We also talked about a few more places I could come back and visit when I have the money. Freud's apartments, the art museum, etc. Many things to do, many things to see. I'd like to ride the U-Bahn around and just get off at each stop and run upstairs to just see where I ended up.

Now we're back in the hotel, packing up our belongings, ready to head our separate ways. Grandma's taxi leaves for the airport at 5 am and mine doesn't leave until 10 am. So after I see her off and dry my tears I will probably eat a little breakfast and walk around to burn some energy for my plane ride to Paris. I'll want to sleep so I can be refreshed to meet my house-mother tomorrow.

Looking forward to the next phase of my adventure,

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

If we're all so different...

Then I wonder how we're affected by events the same way. We all get sick the same way. Pathogens enter our body and our fighter cells either prevent the spreading of the bacteria, or they are in turn killed and our immune system is weakened and we get sick. No matter what part of the planet you are from, you will at some point get the flu, or a fever of some kind. We cough the same, we sneeze the same way, and most of the time we say Bless you just the same. The difference between being sick and being killed by a disease is the development of medicine and vaccinations. Diseases kill us all the same way.

And if we're all so different then how come we fall in the love the same way? Every girl grows up with some fairy tale story read to her at night, and she falls asleep dreaming of her handsome prince arriving to carry her away from a seemingly wretched life to this faraway richness. And every boy goes through some conversation about the birds and the bees upon entering high school. People world-wide are swooned the same, there's usually flowers, chocolates, creative notes, letters, or music involved. We kiss the same, hold hands the same, vow to be together the same way, and even have our hearts broken the same way. A broken heart is a broken heart. The sick to your stomach feeling is felt all around the world. And the heat that rises from your toes to your face after you've found out you've been cheated on rises just like the bile inches its way up your esophagus. Again, word-wide. And even the chemical composition of our tears is the same.

Our genetic make-up is the same, the only differences we see are how the chromosomes are turned on while our genes come together. Children around the world are still born with down-syndrome, or cheiloschisis and palatoschisis, and when we break our bones they are mended the same ways.

So if our mind and bodies function the same way, what's really different about us? The language we speak, the food we eat, and the way we dress? Sure our cultures may be different, but if we're all made up exactly the same, then why can't those cultures transcend one another? I don't care who you are or where you from, language does not have to be a barrier. With the potential capacities our minds have, there is no reason we should not be able to communicate with one another. And the food we eat still all comes from the same basic ingredients. The preparation is different, sure, but if you take it apart piece by piece you will find common ingredients. And who cares if we dress differently? The way you dress only matters regionally and that's based on climate and maybe religious traditions.

If we can somehow find a medium like I think I found today-- some kind of similarity between one nation and the smallest village on Earth, I think we can find an even higher common ground. And maybe one day we'll start to understand one another a little bit better. And then even further into the future (that is, if we don't blow each other up before this point) there will be no need for invasions of neighboring areas, or terrorist attacks between disputing countries, and maybe North Korea will begin relations with it's southern brother too.

Here's to wishful thinking.