Thursday, June 30, 2005

big brother is now tuned in

Today I completed step two in my search for a job: I registered with Assidic, the unemployment office. Because, you see, before I can register with the employment office, I have to go to the unemployment office. This is a process I like to call, "Run, Vivi, Run."

I was very lucky to arrive when I did, as I only had to wait about five minutes, though I was a bit worried at first, since the number on my ticket was 900 and the number currently on the board read 306. Considering there was no one else in the waiting room yet, it certainly confused the hell out of me. Happily, the board changed to my number and I entered into an office containing one man, one desk, and one computer.

I am very happy to report that I understood approximately 70% of everything the man explained to me. This is, no doubt, because he was explaining the paperwork in front of me. I always was a sucker for visual aids. I learned that I need to contact the agency once a month if I haven't found a job, if I find a job, move house, change my name, go out of town for seven consecutive days; basically I need to let them know if I feel a sneeze coming on. It is slightly Big Brotherish, but I'm still feeling pretty good about being in The System.

The next step is to register with the employment office by the end of July, and I have a big book of information to fill out before I go, which may actually take me a month to do.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

a small reprieve

It's slightly cooler today, after a night filled with thunderstorms, but you wouldn't know it in our apartment, since we just cooked a hot meal. Very hot stove + very small apartment = hot hot hot! In our defense, we had some food in the fridge that we needed to cook before it went bad, and I don't know about you, but I'm not a big fan of cold potatoes.

Tomorrow is Steph's last day at work for the school year. He'll be cleaning out his classroom since he'll be starting at a new school in the fall. After that, we've got some interesting plans coming up for the summer, including a camping trip (my first time in a tent), a trip to the town up north where my in-laws are from, and the slight possibility of a trip down to southern France in August. In the middle of all this, I'll be slowly putting my toes in the job pool, to see what's out there.

Today we're gonna pick up some new headphones so I can talk on Skype again, and check out some cameras. The difficult thing with the camera purchase is that we've got a couple of memory cards, and it would be extremely helpful if we could find a camera that is compatible. I've contacted the manufacturer of the cards for help, but I'm not super confident I'll hear anything back from them.

Well, that's my story. What do you have planned for the summer?

Monday, June 27, 2005

happy birthday, junior!

In honor of my sister Mandy's birthday, I'm going to share with you a little of her humor, which I have kept without her permission. Thus, I present to you, The Wit and Wisdom of Mandy:

Via Yahoo conversation:

Mandy : hmm .. the stadium in Providence, RI is the Dunkin' Donuts Center
ViVi: that's sad
Mandy : but tasty!

From an email:

Subject: I'd like to thank the Academy...

I did! I thanked the Academy! LOL

For the front page of the South Tampa News, we're running a feature story on a Oscar Night fundraiser for The Tampa Theatre. I had to call up the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to ask permssion to use the Oscar statue. And I thanked them when I was done talking to them. LOL!!!

"I'd like to thank all the little people ... Gary Coleman ... the Smurfs ..."

And finally, proof that my sister is indeed, bi-lingual in English and l33t sp33k, I give you her away message on Yahoo:

Mandy 's status is now "I r teh sl33p!".

Now if only she would start her own blog!! Bon anniveraire, kiddo! :)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

you can't make this stuff up

Steph and I got up in the wee early hours yesterday to catch a bus to take us to Paris, in order to meet some fantabulous ex-pats for a picnic. The bus deposited us at Place de la Bastille at 9:30 with strict instructions to meet our bus back there at 7pm, and we were off.

Since we arrived so early, we had time for a leisurely coffee and stroll before descending into the already hot metro to make our way towards the lovely Buttes-Chaumont park. We met up with a friend of Steph's, which ended up being extremely helpful because he has a mobile phone, and we don't, so when we couldn't find the party, we were able to call and find our way.

I'm afraid I'll leave loads of people out if I start dropping names, so I'll just say there was a vast array of delicious food, many exclamations of "Och aye!" and "your arse," lovely bi-lingual children, a beeootiful toddler, and more Anglophone accents than you can shake a stick at. It really was a lovely time, and I was really sad to leave to catch our bus home.

After stopping for a quick coffee before making our way back to the Bastille, we descended back into the hell that is the metro in the summer.

So imagine our surprise when we ascended back onto street level at Place de la Bastille, only to find out that the Gay Pride parade was in full swing, and there were no busses in sight.


We consulted with some policemen patrolling the area who were of no help, and called the bus company, which was conveniently closed. By the time we gave up and started to head toward Gare de l'Est to catch a train home, it was past 7pm and the bus surely would have left by then anyway, wherever it was. So, we went back down into the sauna metro (I really cannot emphasis enough how freakin' HOT it was down there), stuffed to the gills with Prideful people leaving the parade area. We arrived at the train station with 15 minutes to spare for the next train home, and we got home around the same time we would have arrived by bus, only 40 euros lighter in the pockets.

You can't make this stuff up, can you?

Friday, June 24, 2005

oh please make it stop

Please. It's too freakin' hot. I can't take it.

Doesn't help much, I suppose, that I stood next to the stove all day and cooked things for tomorrow's picnic.

Brain melting. Cannot concentrate.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

and now for something completely different

Well, it's looks like I'm branching out a bit. Last week, Kim invited me to join her and some other ladies in a project in working on our French, in a very public way.

Thus, from donkey to rooster... was born.

If you'd like to take a peek at us Anglophones trying to express ourselves in another language, or you're one of my Francophone readers (and I do love you guys!) who would like an extra giggle, I heartily encourage you to check it out. :)

cookie monster

After two weeks of staring at the ceiling (or, to be fair, staring at the computer monitor), I was finally ready to get on with it. I called my French professor on Monday, only to learn that the last class of the year was Tuesday, and everyone was bringing a small desert from their home country. I felt like this was the perfect opportunity to try to make some chocolate chip cookies with the chocolate chips Squishy brought me in December.

After a small panic yesterday over ingredients and measurements and a quick run to the grocery (which was still packed to the back of the store, it was crazy), I got on with it. The batter came out fine (but good lord, I have GOT to buy a mixer!) and after a few funky batches (too big, too burnt) I got into a rhythm. It was freakin hot, having the oven going for an hour and a half in this heat, but I finished up just in time to walk to class.

Happily, everyone enjoyed them (or said they did anyway) and a couple of people ate two or three, which to me screams success. Now I just have to do it all over again on Friday for Saturday's picnic.

The funny thing is, I never did a lot of cooking in the states, but now, in order to get a taste of the foods I miss, I find myself experimenting more in the kitchen and doing a lot more baking. I always just ran to the store to pick up cookies or a pie if I needed one. Plus, you can't beat the satisfaction of having cooked something yourself and being complimented for it. The strangest thing of all is that I'm finding that I'm not so bad at it, too!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

saturday night fever

Saturday night, we met our friends in the country for an evening of music.

We met Doc and her sister-in-law, Vero, at a pizzeria, which had good pizza but terrible service. Then we were off to the teeny village of Nully to hear Doc's husband sing in his choir, Allegria. We arrived in the middle of the first choir's set, which was... erm... interesting. I confess the four of us couldn't stop giggling. There's nothing in the world like listening to a bunch of French country folk singing Southern Spirituals. I was quite surprised when the audience started to clap along, but we learned later that Marc's choir was actually clapping along to help the singers keep their tempo. Otherwise, they sang common French songs (Steph said they were songs children sing in school) with... erm... interesting arrangements.

Like we say back home, Bless their hearts.

Allegria was, in fact, quite good. They opened with another Southern Spiritual, but they sounded great and not unlike any other white-bread choir (like my high school choir - we sang "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning" and we were just as... well... white), and went into "I'm Talkin' Bout Feedom" (this was an error in the program that didn't help the giggle-fest). They also did a Mozart piece and a traditional French piece I quite like called "La Nuit" (aka "O Nuit").

For the encore, the choir sat with the audience and we learned a couple of songs en masse to sing in the round (like you do with "Row Row Row Your Boat" or somesuch). I personally think one song would have been sufficient, but by God we were going to do a second which was much more complicated than the first. Do you know, Steph has a lovely, lovely voice and I wish to God I could convince him to sing in the choir with me. Anyway it was fun, but did go on a bit too long.

After the concert, we left Marc to his dinner with the choir and went back to the town where we ate to look for some dessert or something. We ended up at The Bar (yep, the only one in town) across from the courthouse. We sat outside and enjoyed the warm evening, while being entertained by a guy on a drumkit accompanying a cd player.

No, really. Let that sink in a minute: a guy on a drumkit playing along with well-known songs. It was "Tragedy" (Tragedy!) by the BeeGee's when we arrived. Fan-freakin-tastic!

Unfortunately, we had to leave at midnight, so as not to turn into pumpkins (especially since we had the in-laws coming for lunch the next day), but it was so so great to hang out with Doc again. I have to say, Doc has finally started her own blog but it is a private affair, which is too bad, as she's wickedly funny. Here's hoping she'll join us one of these days.

Monday, June 20, 2005

monday madness

I just got back from the grocery, where madness reigned. Normally I know better than to go anywhere near the grocery around noon on a Monday (since they're all closed on Sundays) but as we were perilously close to being out of toilet paper and I wanted to go out before it got too hot (we're bound to reach 90F again today, bleargh), it couldn't be avoided.

The first astonishing thing was that it was so busy, there was someone actually helping folks bag their groceries. This practice is unheard of in France! I even brought my own bag and had only three items, but she took my bag and put my items inside all the same. I thanked her profusely, knowing I'll likely never see it again.

The second astonishing thing I saw was a woman who had her child (he seemed to be around six or so) tied up in a harness, and reminded me very much of a leash, especially the way she wielded it, jerking her son back from a display of candy. Obviously I have no way of knowing the circumstances under which she felt it necessary to leash her child, but certainly everyone murmured when the child pitched a blue fit, arms awailing, over something like the mother giving his bag of candies to the cashier to be rung up. Now, I am the very last person to claim any knowledge of raising children, but it seems to me that if you treat your child like a dog, you shouldn't be surprised if he acts like one.

I usually do a bit of housecleaning on Mondays, but since it's so hot I'm going to beg off until tomorrow. I still have to write about the fabulous time we had on Saturday night, so look out for that very soon...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

my two dads

Today the French and American holiday calendars collided, making Father's Day in both countries today.

Unfortunately I celebrated the American Father's Day by sending Dad's package too late so he didn't receive it on time. Heh. Anyway Dad, it was great chatting with you on the phone today, and I love you so so so so much, and wouldn't trade you for a warehouse full of shoes (considering he likes to call me "Imelda," he knows this is high praise indeed!).

For the French Father's Day, we invited the in-laws over for lunch, which was very nice. Unfortunately, it was unbelieveably, freakishly hot - around 90F outside and around 75F inside, which sounds nice, but was stifling. (My father, the comedian, asked me on the phone, "So why didn't you turn on the air conditioning?" Hardee har har, Pop!) There's nothing like stepping outside at 10am and breaking into a sweat, lemme tell ya! Thought I was back in Florida for a minute.

But I digress.

Bonne fete, mon beau pere!

And a bonne fete and Happy Father's Day to all, and to all a good night. ;)

PS I have a very funny story to tell you about Saturday night, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow for that! Stay tuned...

Friday, June 17, 2005

what once was lost

For a time I genuinely believed I had irretrievably lost my voice.

I had no one to blame but myself, recognizing that it was caused by uncontrollable crying jags and chain-smoking. Even so, I couldn't even rustle up more than a croak when relying on that singer's mainstay: singing in the shower. Not even hot steam and perfect bathroom acoustics helped.

As with most things, I suppose, a little bit of time has lessened the need for both crying jags and chain-smoking, and I was pleasantly surprised to have found my voice again, at last, at last night's dress rehearsal for our concert, which will happen tonight.

It doesn't hurt that the concert will take place in a lovely 16th century stone church with lovely soaring arches and amazing acoustics. It also doesn't hurt when you're singing great music with a great choir lead by a great director. Even better, it's conveniently located around the corner from our apartment. I had such a good rehearsal that I nearly floated home last night.

Funnily enough, the theme for this concert is Life and Death. And because the Gods of Irony are smiling down on me these days, we begin with the rock-n-roll, party-hardy lyrics from Purcell's "Funeral Music for Queen Mary" (in the original English, to boot):

Man that is born of a woman
Hath but a short time to live
And is full of misery

Rock on!

In addition to movements two and four of the Purcell, we'll be singing again Charpentier's Easter Mass, this time adding the Sanctus to the Kyrie and Gloria. Rounding out the concert will be the experimental pieces we've done before, Omnia Muntantur (an exercise in moving scales and dissonant tones) and Komm Susser Tot - by far my favorite piece, which is sung at different tempos at the same time and to me sounds like a piece being playing on a piano with the pedal pressed down, and especially in a place with such great acoustics, it sounds amazing.

The Vocal Ensemble (that's my group) is sharing the bill with the Youth Choir of the Conservatory, and they are so good that they remind me of a similar ensemble I was privileged enough to be a member of a long time ago in a galaxy far away.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

pick knickers unite!

You may have noticed something new in my sidebar with the word "knickers" in it. This tickles me quite a lot, as the word "knickers" isn't used as frequently in the states as it is in other Anglophone countries. But if I call myself a "pick knicker," what does that really say about me?

Maybe it means that Steph and I will be arriving in Paris on 25 June to meet up with other silly Anglophone bloggers for a fabulous pique-nique. We are going to bring baseball & gloves, and you're more than welcome to play catch with us, but be forewarned: we are both left-handed! I may even make olde fashioned American chocolate chip cookies, since I have the chocolate chips, providing I can find all the other ingredients.

It also means that, in order to save quite a deal of money, we'll be staggering to the train station to take a bus at 6:30 in the morning. We must really really like you people. ;)

Monday, June 13, 2005

go go go

The best thing for me these days is to keep busy. I don't think I'm moving forward as much as I'm hurtling myself forward. I've already read all the books I brought back with me. I unpacked the dreaded carry on but I'm still looking for places to put all the stuff. The choir concert is Friday night, so the extra rehearsals help. We had a medieval festival in Troyes this weekend, but it was the first time they've had one and it was nothing like the huge festival they have in Provins every year, which was also this weekend. Still, there was a medieval garden and exhibits on machines of war and medicine and the town itself looked very nice. Everything had stopped by 7pm Saturday night, so we missed it when we went for a walk, but we caught some highlights Sunday afternoon. Last night, Steph took me out for a belated birthday dinner, at a creperie right in the middle of the oldest part of town. I love eating on the terrace there. The sun doesn't set until after 10pm (which is still very weird for me) and the weather is so gorgeous that it's simply criminal not to go out and take a stroll.

I can laugh and joke, and go along my day as if nothing in the world was wrong with me.

But every night, when I go to bed, images of that terrible day play in the back of my mind, like a movie I can't switch off. No matter how tired I am, there they are.

And then the next day, jump out of bed and go go go, stay busy. As if I could outrun it.

As if.

Friday, June 10, 2005

a post a la ms. mac

I don't think most of these items really warrant their own posts, so I'm just gonna ramble for minute, m'kay?

  • I don't think I've mentioned it, but I took the opportunity to get my hair cut when I was home. It looks and feels so much better, I can't even tell you (especially after it has grown a couple of weeks). And it's curly again! Hurrah!
  • I can't take a picture of it to show you because before I left I accidently dropped the camera and it broke. Ahem. Moving swiftly along...
  • I could not have ordered better weather than what we've had this week. Sunny blue skies, highs in the low 60's, hot in the sun and cool in the shadows and inside the apartment. I keep making excuses to go run errands.
  • Last night was my first choir rehearsal since I got back. We're doing Charpentier's Easter Mass again, with all three movements this time. I was singing the alto solo in the first movement before I left, and someone else was singing it while I was gone. She graciously gave me to solo back, which was so nice and she completely didn't even have to (yes, once you're absent for a significant period of time, nine times out of ten someone else will take over your solo, and it's usually up to the director or new soloist to reliquish it when you return - you should never ask for it back. It's all cool, I've been doing this for a while and I know how it works.) and in the end the director asked us to sing it together anyway. The other piece we are doing is "The Funeral for Queen Mary." In English. That one's gonna be hard. The concert is next weekend and I'll be ready to get that piece over with.
  • I never really noticed it before, but my sister-in-law Isabelle talks with her hands. A lot. As she drove me home from rehearsal last night, she kept waving her hands around. Did I mention she was driving? So she's trying to navigate this one way road with cars on both sides and waving her hands around and barely touching the wheel to straighten out. She was telling me about the project she's doing at work but I was concentrating more on her hands. I thought I was animated, but she's the queen, I'm tellin' ya!
I think I'm gonna go tackle the carry on suitcase in the living room. More news as it happens.....

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

soldiering on

I'm feeling decidely less cottoney now, thanks. Monday afternoon my mother-in-law appeared on my doorstep and offered to take me to the grocery store. It was nice to get out a little bit. My suitcase arrived yesterday. I've got laundry going, things to put away, letters to write, French homework to do. Steph is working in town today, so I've got a specially-requested lunch to make.

And yet.

Dad asked my sister and me to take some of Mom's personal affects. They are sitting in a carry on bag in the front room. I can't bear the thought of going through them again. I keep hearing Mom calling me in the back of my head. Walking through town is painful, because I realize she will never know this town, my in-laws, her grandchildren - nevermind that my children will never know her generosity, humor, her love of games and sports. I am overwhelmed with questions I want to ask her. I want to call her and say, "Mom, you're dead, what do I do now?" How ridiculous is that? Every step I take from now on, I won't be able to share with her.

We have been so lucky in all of my family. The vast majority seem to be taken by illness only in old age. Fifty-nine is not old. I find myself seeing older women and becoming upset and resentful. Why should they get to live? Mom didn't do anything to deserve this.

I know eventually these feelings will fade. I know that anger and despair are parts of the grieving process. I know I have to pick up and move on, somehow.

Excuse me if I flounder around a bit, and posting is a bit light. I know this doesn't make very interesting reading - there's loads of good writing in the sidebar on the right that I can encourage you to visit. Thanks again for all your positive and supportive comments. They have really lifted me up.

Monday, June 06, 2005

what a long strange trip

Finally got home yesterday. Thanks to some weather delays at Philadelphia, I (and about 50 other international travelers) missed my international connection, and spent the night in Philly. And of course my luggage is still presumably in Philly. This is the nightmare that will not end.

I am taking a break from sleeping, but I believe I will be returning to that enterprise very soon. Maybe when I'm done with that I'll have something more interesting to say. It seems someone has stuffed some cotton in my head, so I'm a bit fluffy at the moment. Better luck for a decent post tomorrow.

Friday, June 03, 2005

leavin' on a jet plane

I start my journey home this afternoon. As anxious as I am to see Steph, I also know that going home means moving on. I've been hiding in this safe cocoon these last couple of weeks, where reality is a dream interrupted by the occasional nightmare. I know going home will be the opposite. I also know that eventually it will even out, but for now I'm dreading the idea of saying goodbye to Dad and going home and getting on with the business of living. I'm dreading the first exciting thing that will happen and I won't be able to call Mom and tell her about it.

See you on the other side...

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

the measure of a man

My grandfather Amadeo (known as Army to friends and family) lived to be 87, and lived life to the fullest. He was a professional football player, wrestler, and educator for over 50 years, working until he died. Married twice, he was a father of six (of which my father is the oldest), grandfather of twelve and great-grandfather of five.

My Uncle Steven gave a beautiful eulogy, and with his permission I am including an excerpt below.

The Measure of a Man

What is the measure of a man?

I believe that we are measured by our families, others we have met, and God.

For those of us that have worked in Education, we know that we all have had an impact on the lives of children we have taught or coached. The question we might ask might be, was it a good positive impact or did we have very little influence in their future? Or perhaps a better question could be, did we say or do something that changed the direction of someone's life? Remember Robert Frost wrote, "I chose the path less traveled." Did you ever help someone go in the right direction?

It is the quality of one's nature that sets you apart. When the time comes for you to stand up to the plate and make a difference, do you know what to say, do you have the courage to say it, and do you say it with conviction? He had all those qualities and I am glad he was there at those turning points in my life.

Only God can measure a man for Heaven, but we can speculate. Have people gotten into heaven that have made mistakes? The answer is yes, if we have tried to right those mistakes and ask for forgiveness. Have we loved our neighbors and given our love to our family? I know that he has. My family and I loved him very much and his opinion meant a great deal to all of us. We have confided our fears, troubles, and worries to him and appreciated his responses. I feel like picking up the telephone and calling him right now.

In the days after Mom died, Grandpa and Uncle Buddy drove up to Asheville to spend some time with us. Moved by Mom's passing, he told us that when it was his time to go, he wanted us to have a party in his honor, and that's exactly what we did last weekend. I hope you were smiling down on us, Grandpa, and that we sent you off right.