Big Wide Streets

I am sick as a dog, hacking my lungs up and wandering around bumping into things. I stayed healthy the whole time I was in France, thanks largely to my "why the fuck not" sleeping in almost every day until 9 or 10am, but all the germs of the world finally caught up with me following the 23 hours of travel home. B and I also experienced the worst jet-lag of our lives; I've been flying since I was a baby, but I have never been so thrown off by long-distance travel. We're stoked because we finally managed to sleep until 6am today, instead of, like, 4.

But anyway! Happy new year's eve to everyone. Those of you in SC will forgive my absence at the history + astro grad party...new year's is one of those holidays B and I love to hate (too much screaming of "woo!") and, um, I'm sick. Like I said.

I wanted to note a few of my impressions on being back in Cali:
  • The streets here are amazingly wide.
  • The sidewalks are not only amazingly wide, they are almost completely clear of both dog shit and people running into you (me).
  • People dress like hobos! But it's a relief!
  • People sure do have stupid cars in California.
  • My apartment is huge. Palatial. You could fit the whole Wu-Tang Clan in here, circa 1997.
Re: the stupid cars, B and I were out getting food and going on walks yesterday and I was quickly reminded of just how many would-be tough guys live in SC, with the hats and the pants and the cars and the bass. But then I realized that I have, in the past, been overly critical of what is really just a part of the quaint regional culture. If I were to go to New Jersey, for instance, and I bumped into a bunch of guys saying 'feggedabouit' and acting like Tony Soprano, I would take it like an anthropologist and be like "this is part of their culture! They have cultural CODES!" The same standard ought to apply here, for every doofus in a lowered Honda with a backwards hat. Enjoy your cultural codes, fellows!

So despite being sick, being home is so rad I can barely handle it. Join me in hoping that 2009 only sucks a fraction as much as 2008 did for most people, the Obama win notwithstanding.


Your Airport Sucks, Frenchie. Also: I Am a Master Criminal

I am back in the United States. I am really, really happy about that. Let me tell you about my travels over about 23 hours yesterday.
  1. The shuttle van showed up right on time yesterday morning and we cruised off into the sunrise, with a last glance of the Ile St. Louis. Leaving from Charles de Gaulle proved quite a bit more complicated; in classic French customer service style, one security line was there to serve about three planes worth of people trying to leave, then we had to take a frigging bus to the plane itself. It was an appropriate "we never liked you anyway" moment from Paris to me on my way out.
  2. Speaking of frigging buses, if you're going to spend over four billion pounds upgrading your international terminal, does it really make sense that your customers have to take buses from plane to terminal? They might as well just have you run across the tarmac trying to dodge those stupid little trucks. Anyway, we had a tight connection, made tighter by all the unanticipated bus rides, but we made it.
  3. Ten hours is a lot of time to be on a plane.
  4. Um...then I got nailed by the fuzz. Apparently, someone with my name (I am not making this up) has been out there committing felonies, so I showed up on the watch list when they ran my passport in SFO. Of course, I was there with B and I look like a dorky 30 year-old academic, so the TSA guys were all like "um...we don't think we're looking for you." Then I had this funny conversation:
Young TSA guy: "Do you have any tattoos?"
KFR: "Um, yes."
YTSAG: "Where?"
KFR: "On my arms."
YTSAG: "Any on your neck?"
KFR: "No."

It was then that I realized I was wearing a great big scarf wrapped several times around my neck. For the first and only time in history, wearing a scarf made a man look more like a threat.

Anyway, I hope they catch that one of the 1636 people who share my (our) name(s) who's out there being nefarious so that I get pulled off the stupid Dick Cheyney fascism-in-action list.

In the meantime, who cares, I made it. Tune in for a lot of long-winded "France is like THIS, America is like THAT" posts in the future. You lucky kids.


Or Revoyer

This morning we brewed an extra-black pot of coffee (quote of the day from Airplane: "No, thank you, I take it black, like my men.") We cleaned the apartment something serious. We did the online check-in with British Airways, which worked out despite a few hiccups. We did one last jaunt around the island, leaping over the piles of dog shit and dodging the usual attempts of oblivious Parisian pedestrians to run into us. We picked up one more baguette tradition for us and some treats for our current bunny-sitter back home. We've just decided to abandon the idea of remaining completely sober tonight in favor of one last bottle of cotes du rhone, which should take up the last of our euros.

Tomorrow a van will hopefully arrive down in the street at 8:45am and take us to CDG. We fly from there to London, then have a very brief layover before hopping on a plane to SFO. I have anti-anxiety drugs queued up and ready to go and BA is one of those wonderful carriers that has those little personal video screens for each passenger on its international flights, so even though it's a 10-hour flight it shouldn't be too awful.

I fully expect to fall on my knees and kiss the floor when I reach the end of the ramp at SFO. Hopefully that isn't some kind of profile thing the TSA agents look out for ("He seems too happy to be returning from Europe. Strip search!")

I'm counting down the hours to big cups of coffee, riding the (Santa Cruz) Metro, tromping around UC to the SC's silly ewok village campus, cheap(er) food, going otter spotting, Dungeons and fucking Dragons w/ my gang of erudite dorks, and seeing my homies in California and Oregon in general.



The shot to the left is meant to send a little blue sky back to everyone currently buried under several feet of snow and ice. My policy with snow has always been that it's great fun and pretty to look at for about the first six hours, after which it just becomes a complete pain in the ass. So: hang in there to everyone in the NW, NE, and MW.

B and I had a fun Xmas morning. She made crepes with raspberries, nutella, and chevre, and I made scrambled eggs. We drank a lot of coffee. We exchanged presents. Highlights for me include some fancy-ass charcoal pinstripe slacks, a new scarf, and the Great Outdoor Fight book from achewood. I got her a few funny kids books in French and some other stuff.

Plans for the rest of the day are extremely limited: a walk, food, wine, and a viewing of the holiday classic Van Helsing. You can feel the peace of the holiday season.


Our Relationship Is Built on Retribution and Defiance


So, ahem, fuck Parisian laundromats. Fuck 'em up, down, left, right, fuck 'em six ways from Sunday. B and I were so foiled today, and it all started with the laundromat (the ENTIRE laundromat) being broken this morning. I was reminded several times over why I'm so happy to be going home to California...I love being here with B, but that's to B's credit, not Paris's.

So let me break it down.

We wake up and I try to do our laundry but the whole laundromat doesn't work because Parisian laundromats all operate off of a central machine bolted to the wall but it doesn't work and the two women sitting there waiting for the guy to show up to fix it fail to mention that fact to me so I lose four euro down the slot before I pipe up with a "il y a une problème?" and find out what's going on so I go back to the apartment with a giant thing of dirty laundry and our schedule is all screwed so we decide to go to the catacombs anyway and it's SUPER WEIRD, you guys, with a 40 minute wait in line and then a 500 meter walk and then a giant, well, catacomb full of hundreds of thousands of bones and it takes like forty minutes just to walk through it all and then we use my last two metro tickets and get back to the apartment and then we have to go back out and do Xmas shopping and then back again and then back out for dinner and the FUCKING CAFÉ I'd been planning on taking B to the whole time is closed so we eat fried duck at this cheapo place down the street and we FINALLY make it back and watch the last episode of Top Chef season 3 and stupid ass-wipe HUNG wins even though we totally knew he would. LAME.

But. Before Top Chef and after dinner. We walk back. And B remembers that I have said that the Ile St. Louis is famous for ice cream. So we get two scoops each from a funny dude in a little place. And it is absolutely delicious.

So fuck the laundromat, fuck closed cafés, fuck how exhausting this stupid city is, but let's hear it from the Maison de Berthillon and the delicious ice cream they make.


(Actually, I thought the catacombs were pretty dope. Oh, and "our relationship is built on retribution and defiance" is part of a conversation B and I were having earlier while we were giggling about stuff.)


Opera: 1, Louvre: 0

Paris is not like Hawaii. You don't relax here; you look at things. We did the obligatory Louvre day yesterday and today got a wonderful guided tour of the Opera from C, the professor for whom I played computer tech all term.

That's the big Xmas tree at the Galeries Lafayette, the huge-ass super-ritzy department store just on the other side of the Opera. We went up to the roof to check out the view.

That's the original Swan Lake tutu...or actually, one of the original tutus, since the dancer who toured the world doing Swan Lake burned through quite a few of them in the process.

That's the ceiling of the Opera. It's the 1964 replacement for the original, which is still intact underneath.

This is how B feels about the Louvre.

This naked three-thousand year-old Egyptian chick is holding on to a large beach ball.

It is really quite remarkable just how much shit the French stole from Egypt in the nineteenth century.

Our conclusion? That the Louvre is actually kind of tedious. I think we already knew that, but both of us noticed that our moods improved considerably on being able to check it off the "have to do in Paris" list.* And, while I have no particular connection to or relationship with opera music itself, the Parisian Opera (the old one, not the crazy space-age one at the Bastille) is absolutely gorgeous inside. We were really lucky to have C as our guide, as she did her dissertation research on the Opera and knows more about that place than the people who work there, I'm sure.

As ever, buttloads of pics on Flickr.

* I still like the Egyptian stuff.


Paris: An Okay City

To the left, a shot of one of the two carousels they have set up in front of the Hotel de Ville right now, next to the ice rink they built for yuletide revelers. B and I went out after it got dark to take pictures of Christmas decorations down on the Rue de Rivoli and discovered its extreme prettiness.

We've had two days of scampering about town; yesterday was a walk around the Marais followed by the afternoon in Montmarte. We found Charles Fourier's grave in the Montmarte Cemetery and took a buttload of pictures. Then we drank a lot of wine, ate bread + cheese, and watched some episodes of Top Chef that I got in a very legal manner.

Today we started slow, owing to afore-mentioned a lot of wine. We checked out the Cluny Museum (unicorns!) and Montparnasse (my favorite cemetery!) before running out of steam, buying food from the incompetent slobs at the Monoprix, and kicking our way through the tourists to get back to the apartment.

So here's the thing that I discovered yesterday: I like Paris now that B's here. I think it's really beautiful and neat. I continue to ignore the people and just pay attention to the streets and the shops and the monuments and the museums, and it's so much fun to do it all with B. Her deal is that she never really cared about France; she managed to dodge European history in school, she doesn't speak a word of French, so for all she cared we might as well be in Poland. That makes it so that neither of us really have any expectations; when things are beautiful and fun, great, and when they're not, screw it. We go back to the apartment and watch more Top Chef.

In short, it's nice that my last few weeks here will be happy ones and that I'll be able to look back at this weird-ass episode of my life with a more balanced set of memories. Yay for me.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Mt. Saint-Michel

The only thing I was worried about was catching the bus from Rennes to Mt. Saint-Michel itself. The online schedule was confusing and the only directions were vague; something about going 50 meters north of the train station and voila! You were all set. We arrived on time and stood in front of the station looking around for a bus that definitely wasn't there. At the last minute we realized that the building off to the right of the station proper (east, fool, not north) was the bus station...but it turned out that the bus had left an hour earlier and the next one wasn't until that evening.

We stumbled back out onto the street and a funny little dude came up and, in French, asked if we needed a ride. Five minutes later we had hired a part-time minibus driver who picked up stranded tourists at 20 euro a head on his days off and drove them to St. Michel in his little Peugeot. I proceeded to discover a few things:

* I can understand French just fine, as long as the speaker is from Normandy or Bretagne.
* I can carry on a conversation in French for an hour just fine...as long as the speaker is from Normandy or Bretagne. They speak SO much more clearly and SO much slower than Parisians. I was thinking "he's talking like a French class!" the whole time I was in the car.
* It's pretty in NW France.

An hour later we were there. In mid-December, along the English Channel, while it was pouring cold rain back in Paris, it was a gorgeous blue day over St. Michel. We got our hotel room (real bathroom! TV!), we took about 160 pictures each (must create new set in flickr!), and we ate tasty food (little fancy pizzas and a bottle of cotes du rhone!)

The next day, the trip back went as planned: we were there when the bus showed up and the TGV always seems to run on time. It was a crazy 36 hours, but by 8pm we were back in the little apartment on the Ile St. Louis.

I highly recommend checking out my many pictures, some of which are pretty (the ones with B in them and/or Mt. Saint-Michel.)


This Is Way More Fun

B arrived as planned on Sunday evening, although British Airways did everything in its power to screw up her London - Paris hop. My first thought on seeing her was "my dear lord but she is pretty..."

Since then, we've been running around town. We did the walking tour of the islands and the Latin Quarter yesterday, came back to the apartment to de-freeze, then back out for a hike to the BNF and back. Using the power of technology, we watched the first few episodes of season 3 of Top Chef whilst munching on bread + cheese + charcuterie. Today we hit the Musée D'Orsay, Jardin de Luxembourg, and more Latin Quarter walking. Right now, we are on the wine and just got back from taking nighttime photos of Notre Dame and its big-ass Christmas Tree.

More the point?! Tomorrow, we are off to Mont Saint Michel, which promises to be highly photogenic so long as we manage to find the right bus once we get to Rennes via TGV. In the meantime, please to be referencing my flickr site for a few shots.


Bleach Substitute

My three-day prep for B's arrival has just culminated in the incredible success of day 2: cleaning the living snot out of the apartment.* I haven't seen any straight-up bleach (javel, noun, feminine) at the Monoprix, so I'm using this kitchen/bathroom spray stuff. It works just fine, although it's not quite as caustic and potentially life-threatening as I'm used to with my cleaning products. Word is, France Info and Le Monde are sending people over to interview me about how I made this place so unbelievably clean.

Our last grad night on Thursday was fun, although I drank too much and stayed up too late and carried that legacy around with me all day yesterday. Meeting those guys was definitely one of the highlights of this gig for me; now they're all off to finish dissertations and have babies and get jobs and kick asses.

Anyway, clearly, I have little to add. Posts to follow once B is here (arriving 6:30pm Paris time tomorrow) and we start being very mellow, very cheap tourists.

* Technically, I am the living snot. So I guess I should leave.


Some Things I've Learned in Paris

(Forgive the mopey, drama-queen tone. I think it's unavoidable with this kind of blog post.)

I’ve learned that the default state of a human being, alone and sober, is profoundly alienating. It’s the whole crux of existentialism, yet again. Gorz devoted a vast amount of effort to understanding and explaining how that works, of how the consciousness can possibly feel alienated from the world it exists in. How can we be born into the world and yet discover it to be a foreign, hostile place? His answer, like Sartre’s, took about 600 pages to work through. I feel very close to him right now, in that weird and kind of creepy way scholars always say they feel close to the people they study intensely. That alienation from one’s self feels incredibly acute when I’m alone.

I’ve learned that Becky and I have grown together, like a grafted tree, in ways that I never noticed when we were together at home in California. We are both profoundly different people than we would have been if we hadn’t been together, and together for this long. I experience her absence as a kind of maiming, a crippling of who I am and what I’m capable of.

I’ve learned that it takes an incredible amount of courage to live in a foreign place. It makes me think of immigrant communities, with people who live somewhere their whole lives but never learn the language, with profound sympathy. It makes me think of Brecht’s poems about exile during WWII, “trapped” near a beach in southern California, longing for Germany.

I think I mentioned the end of David Byrne’s movie True Stories way back when I arrived. He, as the narrator, says “I really enjoy forgetting. When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks. The color of white paper. The way people walk. Doorknobs. Everything. Then I get used to the place and I don't notice those things anymore. So only by forgetting can I see the place again as it really is.”

The movie is all an enormous put-on, a tongue-in-cheek take on 80s America saturated with a knowing, false naiveté. So, at first, that quote seems kind of cruel, another stupid thing said by the stupid American he’s playing in the movie. But I now feel like there’s a profoundly human element to that idea, of needing to forget. When you arrive in a new place, you notice everything because everything is threatening. The noticing arises from the kind of vigilance you have to maintain, because you never know what all of these foreign objects could do to you or how you could be injured or humiliated by them. To forget the details is to be comfortable enough somewhere that you no longer feel like you have to do that.

In that sense, enjoying the process of forgetting is nothing more than admitting the fact that almost no one is strong enough to keep up that kind of vigilance indefinitely.


Run, Penguin, Run

I mean...as much as I like killer whales, penguins are so charming it's hard not to hope they win.

Today was the last day of the term for me at the UC center, so I covered the crap out of the lunch shift (which has been my job all term, besides laptop repair.) Tonight is the goodbye grad potluck at P's, then I have a couple of days to wrap up logistics before B arrives. The apartment will be all spiffy and there will be non-pasta related foods in the cupboard. For the first time since August.

I'm going to apologize in advance if I feel like writing up some big awful philosophical treatise on what Paris has been like for me. Happily for everyone, I'm not going to do that YET.


1461 Days Late and 24,000 Dollars Short

In keeping up with my tradition of being years behind the times, here are my latest so-called discoveries:
  1. Google Reader. I have so many damn blogs to keep up with, I finally cracked and started using RSS. Now I just fire up google reader and I've got everything waiting for me. Google is kind of like that city everyone lives in in Logan's Run. I think we'd all be quite happy there, and getting sacrificed at 30 would be okay (especially if Jenny Agutter was in effect in the meantime, obviously.)
  2. LCD Soundsystem. They (he?) fulfill(s?) my need for bleeps and boops.
  3. Real-time experience with just how much Windows Vista truly, madly, deeply sucks. I went back over to the prof's pad for round two with her husband's laptop. After some brutal knock-down drag-out registry editing and crazy fixes I found online, we declared an official state of Fuck It and reinstalled with a highly legal copy of XP he got from someone. Vista reminds me of what it was like when I got into IT back in about 2000: by definition, if it says Windows, it probably doesn't work.
As an aside: who is this "Chica" person who called me out on my definition of hipsters and postpunk in the comments of my happy birthday to E and Ransom last post? Out of context, Chica! And everyone needs to have a public profile for their blogger accounts if they do comments. Stand and deliver.

News on my end: B's here in less than a week. I'm writing (in / on) my dissertation in my pajama pants and hoodie today. I don't really want to leave the apartment, but I promised myself back in August that no matter what, I'd do two things every day: maintain hygiene standards and get out far enough to see the river (which takes about two minutes. I live on a tiny island, remember?)


Important Birthday Note(s)

Everyone who has ever earned a graduate degree at the University of Oregon, worked for a certain prominent computer security corporation, listened to country music without irony, cherished cowboy boots, fought through horrible migraines and somehow remained cheerful and sane, drank their fair share of boozahol, watched Deadwood a lot, read their way through a lot of 19th century Victorian fiction, or shaken their ass at 80s night ought to stop by the blog of E, AKA Bug, AKA Another Kind of Nerd, and wish her a happy birthday. That is all.

P.S. I'd say the same thing about Ransom's birthday yesterday, but for the fact that he never updates his blog. Oooh, snap!


This Should Come As No Surprise

As many of you have probably already seen, the NY Times ran this article a few days ago about how a university education is rapidly becoming so expensive that practically no one can afford one.

For me, this is probably the most concise statistical summary of the legacy of Reaganomics:

"Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 while median family income rose 147 percent."

You get that? 147% That's the raw percentage, not adjusted for inflation or cost of living.

Everyone knows that they're supposed to go to college, but it's now reached the point where it isn't clear if it's worth the 50,000+ in debt it takes to get that BA in art history. In a sense, it's a assault on the possibility of democracy, if we think of democracy, at least in the social sense, as a state in which there is a reasonable chance for any given person to achieve the same things as any other person, regardless of background.

As a (would-be) historian, what drives me crazy about this shit is the fact that things really did get better from about WWII - 1980. Income was distributed more equitably, and despite everything that was wrong with that period culturally, American society was closer to the democratic ideal than it ever had been and, quite possibly, ever will be again.


On a happier note, the Onion AV club ran this interview with rapper Kool Keith and DJ Kutmasta Kurt (who is from Santa Cruz) in which it was revealed that of his many pseudonyms, Kurt's favorite for Keith is "Fly Ricky the Winetaster." I have one thing to say about that:



The Devil's Sausage

So Germany was rad. The trains ran on time, my homie S was waiting at the station when I arrived in Heidelberg and she had an extra pass for the tram system for me, good for the whole time I was there. During the course of the long weekend, we did a late Thanksgiving (with real imported American stuffing)*, we hung out at the Christmas market, we tromped around the old city and the little village C+S live in, and I spent a lot of time playing with their two year-old kiddo, just the latest in the line of kids of my friends who will be unable to avoid becoming geniuses. Should their sexual orientations end up recommending it, I'm going to make sure he marries the daughter of our SC buddies E+N.

So: the devil's sausage, or Teufelswurst, was what I had for lunch at the Christmas market, along with a mug of Gluhwein, the traditional hot rum-infused red wine. The devil's sausage, it is rather spicy. Keep that in mind should you encounter him it.

I discovered that over two years in California has rendered me useless for actual cold weather. It was around freezing the whole time I was there and I felt like a beleaguered orphan in a nineteenth-century novel whom you're supposed to pity. This had no impact on fun-having, however.

Mostly, I'm coming away from the trip sort of shaken by the niceness of everyone in Heidelberg. People smile there. They make change without getting pissy. They seem relaxed and unselfconscious. It's like the anti-Paris.**

C+S were wonderful hosts and I was sorry to leave. But now it's only two weeks until B's here and I can really, actually start counting down the days without it just making me crazier.

There are a buttload of new pics up on flickr from the trip.

* B shipped them to me in a care package. They totally made the party happen.
** Granted, the teenagers in Heidelberg have really ugly haircuts. When oh when will the euro-mullet die and stay dead?