Archive for February, 2010

You Want to Stick Your What Where?

photo by telly telly

A year into my last job, I negotiated a 4-day work week. My colleagues began to call my day off “Granny Fridays.” See, instead of relaxing 3-day weekends, I tended to use my free Fridays for doctor’s appointments. All sorts. Way too often. (I really know how to live it up.)

Now I used to be healthy. Thank god, as I was still in the US. I had no health coverage when I first moved to New York claiming to be a dancer (I quickly learned that I was not actually a good dancer). Lucky for me I didn’t suffer any injuries along the way.

I’m not sure how my body knew to wait until I found my way to “socialized” medicine’s shores, but I pretty much started falling apart once in France. (Or is that, once I turned 30?)

Why do I have this bulging vein in my left leg? Ouch, my lower back is killing me. What is that random growth on my eyelid? Why is my skin peeling there?

It’s charming how doctors practice most often out of home offices, but this homey environment doesn’t always translate into friendly care. (And while I prefer an apartment to a sterile institutional building, sometimes the lack of onsite equipment can be inconvenient. Like my friend telling me she had to carry her pee to an analysis facility down the street. I kind of don’t want to carry my pee further than just down the hall.)

Finding a good gynecologist has been the most difficult. Not that I ever liked going to the gynecologist (jeez, no!), but of all doctors, I always thought this one was the easiest to talk to. I mean, it’s pretty intimate down there. There should be no beating around the bush (sorry for the pun).

The few gynos I’ve tried here have been, in a word, cold. Cold is fine as long as they’re helpful, I guess, but so far, they have not been. One reason might be because they consider me a freak-of-nature.

No, I am actually normal in that regard. But I’m a married 31-year old woman who doesn’t want kids – this doesn’t seem to compute. Not only can’t they wrap their minds around it, they actually argue with me about it. Apparently, I don’t know what I want. When they realize that I might be serious, I instantly become a suspicious person. ‘Not a real woman,’ they scribble in their notes. (This is the one private matter the normally discreet French seem to think is public. Since motherhood is an assumed goal, I get lectures from everyone when they find out it’s not in my plans.)

So anyway, I’ve been on a search for a gynecologist who won’t hold my lifestyle choices against me. My friend Amber said she had finally found a great one in the 17th. I am willing to travel to the opposite end of Paris now on the strength of a good recommendation.

I called the doctor’s office and spoke with a friendly receptionist – great start. When I gave her my phone number, she laughed. “Wow, you don’t have simple numbers there.” I concurred. (My phone number is like the most complicated combination of numbers an Anglophone who stumbles over French numbers could fear. The last 4 digits alone, for example, are 79 83. That literally translates as “sixty ten nine” (79) and “four twenty three” (83) when you say it in French. Yeah, could you come up with a better system, please?)

The receptionist complimented my French anyway.

It was only when she asked, “and so do you need the acupuncture for something specific or are you coming for a general medicine appointment” that the conversation took a wrong turn.

“Sorry? I thought Dr X was a gynecologist?” I said.

Awkward pause.

“No, madame, she’s not a gynecologist. She’s an acupuncturist.”

Ok, cool. REALLY glad we cleared that up before I showed up for the appointment which we had just agreed would be later that afternoon. (Me: “Where were you thinking of putting those needles?” Doctor: “Why have you taken off your underpants?”)

The receptionist was so nice though that I said, ‘well, I have been looking for an acupuncturist, too.’ (To address which malady, though, I’m not sure – I have so many to choose from!) ‘But I’ll get back to you on that.’

Now, onto find a non-needle wielding gynecologist. Who knew that would be so hard?

Like a Kid on a Carousel

Carousel at the Hotel de Ville

Just a quick post for anyone keeping track: My carte de sejour renewal went off without a hitch!

Have the happiness police put me on their good list?

*Only* an hour’s wait. Then the public servant took our dossier. Asked us no questions. SAID EVERYTHING WAS ‘BON’.

Really? That’s all? (Next to us, the public servant was telling some misfortunate soul that his ‘document had no value.’ Aucune, monsieur!)

Exit with recipise (receipt) in hand, the sun shining! (It had been raining when we entered).

I may be in some Paris parallel universe right now.

This picture seemed to encapsulate it, as I strolled by the Hotel de Ville. I felt like a kid on a carousel (with a great big chateau to boot!)

First time I will place anything relating to bureaucracy in my ‘Paris Paradise’ category, but here it goes!

The Happiness Police

I’ve had a tip-top day in Paris and I thought I should share. Enough talk of bureaucracy and minor annoyances!

Granted, this may seem a sorry excuse for a great day. It involved activities such as photocopying my massive list of papers for my dossier and an appointment with my bank counselor.

So not great in the idling away lovely hours in a café, sunny day in the park, stumbling upon a secret hideaway, kind of way. But it still made me happy.

Smile

Ok, so what did happen?

Get ready for it: I had only positive interactions with French people.

Yes, that’s correct. People were nice. They were kind. I was not treated as the idiot foreigner, but instead as a charming (still foreign, but no foul) human being.

Plus, I ran across a few characters. Meaning, not only were people friendly, but I also experienced that animated city rush I always had in New York when (often) random encounters cropped up in unexpected places. (If I miss anything the most, it is the lively human circus that is NYC).

First I made a doctor’s appointment (or tried to – story later) and talked to the most delightful receptionist who complimented my French. (?!)

Then the guy at the photocopy place chatted with me amiably – a good chat, too – but didn’t try to pick me up. Totally unslimy. (!?)

Next my new bank counselor was sweet as a button (are buttons sweet? Hmm, no, how about sweet as sugar) and did not judge my haphazard financial decision-making. Non-judgmental (?!)

As I was leaving the bank and wandering the tony streets of the 17th, the sun came out (!?)

And then I heard screaming.

Actually it was more like roaring.

Two young boys were roaring at (let’s be fair) a rather drunk man. The rather drunk man roared back at them. The boys would take a step toward the drunk man and roar, then bounce back, a little dazed at what they’d just unleashed. The drunk man then ran towards them with his own roar (and looked just dazed in general). I watched this exchange a few times. None of the trio seemed angry or taunting, just sort of testing each other. And roaring.

In other words, creating a scene.

This is what I mean about animation. I like a scene. Scenes are interesting. Discreet, reserved Paris – sure, that’s classy. But give me something to gape at. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

So I was really in for it when I hopped on line 2 and ran into the controleur de bonheur (I’m going to translate that as ‘happiness police.’) First, I didn’t see him, I only heard him. Speaking through a blowhorn. (Good sign. Blowhorns in an enclosed area usually equals scene).

Toy sampling megaphone

I couldn’t understand much of what he was saying (my comprehension goes downhill when French is fed through a crackly blowhorn), but his words were inducing some to slyly laugh and others to look really uncomfortable. So I knew this had the potential to be awesome.

As the controleur approached, I had a momentary panic as I saw he was distributing tracts of paper to everyone and talking to every single person. Was his schtick for money? Did he have a sob story? Would I understand exactly what he was saying to make fun of me?

No need to worry. When he stopped in front of a cute twentysomething man to my right, I could tell it would be fine.

“Ah, the romantic type! Look at that wind-swept hair!” he said. Then, involving the young woman seated close to the cute man “is he your type? Look at those soft brown eyes!”

“No, no,” the girl giggled.

I’ll admit that he spent a little too long at my four-seater. I was sharing my ride with two adorable 6-year old twins and their mother. (The twins were black and the mother was white. As a mixed-race gal, rainbow families also make me happy).

The controleur easily got their names out of them (Zoe and Anais). I could tell mom Odile wasn’t so enthused that her age was also revealed (52). (The girls volunteered this information; the controleur was a gentleman and didn’t ask).

What he handed out was simply a bookmark that said “Mark your page with a smile” that had his blog address written on it.

I would guess that the majority of people felt uncomfortable with the spectacle. They sure looked uncomfortable. Strangers aren’t supposed to talk to each other. (And it does get iffy with children. It’s perfectly reasonable – and parents should! – tell their kids not to talk to strangers, so what do you do when some random stranger with a blowhorn comes up to your kid?)

But, I like the idea of pushing people’s comfort zones. And, hell, rather than someone making sure I paid for my ticket (which is what the real controleurs do), this guy’s motto is “controleur de bonheur, montrez-moi vos sourires, s’il vous plait” (happiness police, show me your smiles, please).

You might have heard me bemoan the fact that smiling is kind of a no-no in Paris. So I was more than happy to flash a great, big smile for the controleur and be on my way.

Pre-Prefecture Panic (PPP Syndrome)

pretty, plentiful paperwork!

A fine if lazy Sunday until a case of serious PPP struck: Pre-Prefecture Panic.

There’s no reason to worry, I try to reason. You’ve already gone through this before.

Right, as if past success guarantees anything with French Bureaucracy.

You might remember that we’re having some troubles with FB regarding our taxes (still unresolved). So you’ll excuse me if sudden swells of anxiety overtake me as I prepare all of my papers for Tuesday. That’s the day my husband and I will march down to the Ile de la Cite and pray that they’ll see fit to renew my carte de sejour.

They probably will (do not jinx it! my brain shouts as I write that), but I’m sure you understand the feeling.

It doesn’t help that I’ve just finished reading an article in Le Monde – first-hand testimonials – of French citizens having trouble renewing their national identity card. That’s right. French citizens. Renewing. Their national identity card.

So they are French, they’re already in possession of a national identity card, and they just want to renew it. Should that be a problem? Apparently, yes. One young woman was told that her French passport did not prove her nationality because it could be a fake passport. Excuse me? she asked. The passport that I’ve been using for the past 7 years that this office issued? Yes, that one.

I’ve always thought proving the “continuity of our life together” was always a funny way to put one of the requirements for my carte de sejour. If they really wanted to see the continuity of our life together, we could whip out some vacation photos or better yet, invite them over to see the pile of dirty socks in the corner, the mixed bag of toiletry items in the bathroom, the loving disarray of two creative people living together.*

But no, ok, they want papers.

I should not be stressed about proving that we’re still married and living together (um, because we’re still married and living together), but of course, there’s always room for worry.

Like my current melt-down: oh no! Our printer is running out of ink, so all of our print-outs don’t look perfect.

Does that matter?

Maybe!

Our banking, electricity bills, and rent stubs – any and everything we can do online is done online. That means all of our ‘original’ documents – cannot overstate the significance of the ORIGINAL – are just print-outs. Can the authorities-that-be hold that against us? They can do anything they please. Which is why I want these documents to look PERFECT. Which they do not. Thus, search for color printer stat.

Melt-down 2: Our joint tax statement. GREAT proof. Except, doh, the way they fixed the incorrect address (again, see my past post), was to put a sticky over the incorrect address and write in the new one. Are you kidding? No, our official tax return has a little sticky note with our correct address handwritten on it. Will the prefecture believe that the sticky note and handwriting were executed by the hands of an actual fonctionnaire (it was!) ? Sure hope so.

I’ll stop there with the details (there are more!) as I’m sure you get the idea. If I’m slightly exaggerating my anxiety for entertainment purposes, I would draw your attention to the word ‘slightly.’

I’m sure everything will be fine (good old American optimism), but this yearly ritual never fails to bring out a little unnecessary stress. Wish us luck!

(*P.S. and unprompted by my husband – see I take responsibility – I should set the record straight. I am actually the messier one. Not really messy. Just a person who tends to choose reading over dishes, a coffee out over laundry. You know, someone who wants stories more than a neat house.)

Prescriptions and Pick-up Lines

Corner pharmacy - great place to pick up chicks

Tonight at my corner pharmacy, the man in the line next to me kept giving me the eye. He was building himself up to say something, I could just tell. It’s been a while since I’ve been so conspicuously checked out – but a woman remembers quickly.

I tried to avoid eye contact and stared straight ahead.

So he changed strategy and just spoke up, throwing his words into thin air.

“Cold, but it seems less cold tonight, huh?”

I didn’t say anything, so he said it again. Asked it.

It was awkward. There was now just one man in front of me engrossed in his medical tale with the pharmacist and my pursuer, now waiting at the counter for the other pharmacist who was off in the back room filling his prescriptions.

I hate to leave words, questions, just hanging there. How embarrassing. I get so embarrassed for other people (even when I don’t want to speak to them, apparently).

So I muttered, “yeah, I guess so.”

Just to give the guy something. Just to answer another human being.

“I mean, I don’t know,” he continued (what? a non-committal mutter is not an invitation to a conversation!). “I sleep alone in my bed.”

At this point, he just stared at me. For a really long time. Like I should be picturing him – lonely, shivering man – alone in his bed. Poor him. Alone when it’s so cold. Wouldn’t I like to join him?

I like the personal attention at my pharmacy – they’ll take the time to explain everything to you.

But right then all I wanted was for complicated medical guy ahead of me to finish his tale so I could pick up my pills and run, quickly, away from creepy guy who was still – (not sure, because I didn’t want to look too closely) – salivating and seeming more and more unseemly by the moment.

I got my wish, my pills – and wouldn’t you know it, creepy guy stared at me even as I was leaving the store.

Beautiful Flamenco Dancer, I Fall at your Feet

When I was a baby, I had a nanny named Josephine who came from the Dominican Republic. My family lived in New York then – the New York of the 70s that I would love to have known.

Josephine spoke to me in Spanish, long before I could understand or form words. There’s no doubt, however, that this early exposure stayed with me.

When I started studying Spanish formally in junior high school, the language came easily, my accent hardly noticeable; vocabulary stuck like scotch tape.

Cara K., my best friend, took French classes and I teased her endlessly for it.

“What good will French ever do you?” I ridiculed.

In fact, I charged anyone who chose not to learn Spanish as elitist. By that point we lived in North Carolina where the Latino population was exploding. Spanish was not only useful, but to me, completely beautiful.

Boy, doesn’t karma come back to get you? Spanish had felt wrapped up in my destiny – yet here I am living in French. My mocking laughter at the dreamy girls and waifish boys who took French lessons is now directed firmly at me.

Whereas the Spanish ‘r’s rolled off my tongue effortlessly, the French ‘r’ makes me sound (and feel) as if I’m gagging. Whereas I actually considered conjugating Spanish verbs fun (yes, I’ve told you before I’m a geek), you’ll never, ever catch me conjugating French verbs correctly.

And most importantly, I believed as long as I kept speaking and learning Spanish, fluency would come some day; I felt no barrier, no wall. Fluency in French, however, is not even a fantasy I entertain.

But I look on the bright side: one of Paris’ most redeeming qualities is how simple it is to leave it.

I flew to Seville last Wednesday in just two hours. Expecting sun and warmth (compared to Paris, at least), we instead endured freezing temperatures and disheartening rain nearly the entire time. As it’s a pays chaud (‘hot country’ as the French like to say), they’re not really equipped for cold spells. They’re usually trying to escape the heat, not generate it.

But I won’t complain because I did experience a moment of pure joy: I fell in love with a flamenco dancer.

A swirl of heat on a cold winter night

Yes, a striking woman with long blonde hair and a bold red-dress commanded the stage and suddenly the wind, the rain, the cold didn’t matter. Her heels forced the earth into submission. Her hands moved through the air like poetry. All of the elements seemed contained within her. It was hard not to think “sex” when a male dancer joined her on stage (or is that just me?)

Call it what you want (I’m not sure I’ve ever liked the phrase “Latin temperament”), but this was also something I always felt when I spoke Spanish – freedom, abandon. If the French are stereotypically thought of as good lovers, it’s a seduction a little to studied for me.

The bewitching flamenco dancer electrified every one of us in that damp, crowded room not with subtlety, but with fire, passion, lust. She showed us every emotion that was inside her.

The cafes where we lounged in Seville were chilly from lack of heaters, but buzzing with life, the din formed from animated conversations, stories recounted over tapas and wine. My loud laugh, which I often feel obliged to tuck away in France, would be welcome here. My tears, rage, any and everything – those would be just fine, too.

I won’t romanticize (too late!) because living in the “City of Love” I know how far from reality our imagined ideals can be (and because we were shivering and miserable most of the time).

But I will remember the language that feels close to my heart, the precious things learned as unconsciously as breathing. I’ll bring back the heat of my treasured flamenco dancer and insist on living passionately in Paris, no matter how reserved I sometimes take it to be.

Happy belated V-day, y’all.

Curses! The F-Word, The B-Word

For those of you who need help tempering your jealousy when you imagine the sweet life in Paris, I have two words for you: French Bureaucracy.

For those of you who already live here: you know what I mean.

I’ll admit that since getting my first carte de sejour (after jumping through several flaming and very high hoops), things quieted down for awhile. I’m married to a French man now, perhaps everything will be alright, I comforted myself late at night. The ordeal is over; calm your battered soul.

Proof that thoughts can be dangerous – how could I have been lulled into such a false sense of security? French bureaucracy will never be “over.” Accept it as a fact of life.

So the issue this time? Property taxes. Nope, don’t mind paying them for where I actually live. Yep, have a problem paying them for a place I don’t.

We were hit by a double whammy recently and the full web of problems keeps unfurling.

We received our taxe d’habitacion for the 11th where we live. Ok, fair enough. Except hmm, that’s funny, didn’t we always have a monthly transfer set up so we wouldn’t be hit all of a sudden with the full sum to pay? And is this normal that we’re paying 10 times what we paid at our old place? And hmm, that’s almost our correct address, but not quite. Isn’t the address we’re being taxed at actually a business…which might explain why we’re paying 10 TIMES MORE?

No matter, we can sort this out.

Except hmm, why have we also received a notice saying that we’re paying in the 19th…which we left in 2008? And why did the automatic transfer work there…where it needn’t have worked? Because um, WE DON’T LIVE THERE ANYMORE.

So we’ve already paid for the residence where we don’t live and the payment for the place we do live didn’t work?

That’s about it.

Go to the 11eme, who has by now added a 10% late penalty fee.

“Not our fault, it’s the 19ths,” they say. “And oh yeah, fill out these forms.”

OK, fill out some forms, go to the 19th.

Tax office in the 19th: “We don’t deal with these problems, you must go to the other office in the 19th.”

OK. Other tax office in the 19th: “You must prove that you no longer live in the 19th.”

OK. How about this contract and lease on our new apartment in the 11th?
-No, that doesn’t work.

OK, how about our insurance on the new apartment plus the fact that we canceled the insurance on the old apartment?
-No.

OK, how about the fact that EVERY SINGLE official document from the Social Security to the address on our payslips is the 11th?
-No.

OK, how about the fact that you HAVE our new address because you sent us this tax notice at the correct address?
-No.

So what exactly counts as proof to you?
-“The etat de lieux” (a piece of paper that says in what condition you left the old apartment).

Um, the non-official paper that our landlord didn’t give to us?
-Yes.

Ok, but isn’t this ton of proof that we live in the 11th count for something?
-No, you could still be living in the 19th.

Even though everything says we live in the 11th?
-Yes, you could live in both the 11th and the 19th.

Do you think most people – especially at our income level which you can see very well because you’re the friggin’ tax people– move to a new place to also live in an old place?
-No answer.

These are just a few of the conversations we’ve been having recently.

The first answer’s always no? Prove a negative? Present a paper that is not in your possession? Yes, this is the French Bureaucracy that I know!

Special thanks to hubby for doing all of the running around. I hunt down old papers, write letters, plan strategy, offer moral support. But I’ve had enough dealings with FB to know that my accent and my looks only make things worse.

We’re going to Seville tomorrow – our heads hurt, we need a break. Wish us luck with the FB upon our return. See you next week!

Bruce Springsteen in Il Buco

I went to a birthday dinner tonight at a delicious Italian restaurant named Il Buco. Tiny and tastefully done, Il Buco boasted fresh ingredients, the service familial. Half French, half Italian, I hardly knew in which language we were speaking.

So there was something incongruous to suddenly hear….the BOSS! Yes, Bruce Springsteen, playing at full blast. Rodolpho, the owner, would randomly throughout the evening turn the volume up all the way.

Apparently, the Boss is the only thing he plays.

We were there celebrating, so it wasn’t hard for us to go along.

The food made me feel like I was in Italy, yet we were screaming “Born in the USA.”

(I wonder how he does it, though. Every night? Can any of you listen to just one thing, over and over? I get obsessive, but not quite like that!)

Il Buco,
18, Rue Léopold Bellan, 75002 Paris

P.S. Bruce Springsteen has eaten there, or at least so I’ve heard.

Vernissage, 59Rivoli

59 Rue de Rivoli


I don’t want to be a starving artist. But I have a thing for starving artists.

You live in a squat? You don’t have a job? Beautiful art-maker, from whence do you come?

59 Rue de Rivoli is a former squat on one of Paris’ busiest shopping streets. Now owned by the city, it’s still home to many artists working there for cheap.

(Does the fact that it’s now the Aftersquat – real name- make it less cool? Don’t know, but my friend Dani works there, and she rules).

Sometimes the shoes as good as the show

Paris and Her Remarkable Women

Village Voice Bookshop

Paris is blessed with several English-language bookshops. Thank god, because if I didn’t have easy access to novels in my own language, I’m pretty sure I’d be nuts by now.

Reading is a pleasure, an escape. If I had to read in French all of the time, it would quickly (hmm, make that instantaneously) become arduous. A chore.

The Village Voice Bookshop is one of these gems. Run by a French woman enthralled by Anglo-American literature, it often hosts readings and events.

I have a guest post about one of these events over on the wonderfully-titled website “No Country for Young Women.”

I learned a lot about “Paris and Her Remarkable Women” (the title of the book). Feel free to check it out!


paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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