Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Curious Creature of Habit

This is my fourth day in Montmartre.  It is *so* amazing and cute!  Every day since I've been here, I've done the exact same thing:

1.  Wake up early to skype with Billy
2.  Breakfast at the hostel (pack a picnic lunch)
3.  Wander around the neighborhood to find things that Billy and I can do when he gets here
4.  Eat lunch and feed the birds
5.  Get some *real* coffee (fyi - this is the best coffee shop in Paris)
6.  Yoga
7.  Walk/hike up to Sacré Coeur to see the sunset over Paris
8.  Pick up quiche and veggie side dishes for dinner
9.  Chat with the cool traveler girls that are boarding in the same room as me
10.  Settle into a book and bed

I'm sad to be saying goodbye to Paris tomorrow, but so so grateful for this ten-day yoga vacation.  Today, I plan to attend my last Bikram class of 2013 (and my ninth class in a row) and then catch the New Year's Eve fireworks display from the Eiffel Tour and the Champs Elysées.

In 2014, I'm looking forward to the second half of our season, a visit from Billy in February, and, in May, a return trip to California via Amsterdam.  Happy New Year to everyone back home!

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Long Story Where Nothing Happens

This morning I checked out of my hostel in the 1st arrondissement (between the Louvre and the Pompidou), and, at around 9am headed up to the 9th arrondissement to compare a cheap apartment I found on auboncoin.fr (which is like French craigslist) with another hostel from the same company (Bureau des Voyages de la Jeunesse or BVJ - kinda like French YMCA).  I also went straight away to check out the Bikram yoga studio in Montmartre.  The studio is amazing and I can't wait to get in and get started.  Today will be my fifth day in a row and I'm feeling more determined than ever.

After popping my head into the studio (which is also beautiful and fully-equipped with mats and showers), I set out to hunt down the hostel.  It was a short five minute walk away, but when I arrived, the thick blue doors were closed and locked and there was no answer when I buzzed the front desk.  Hmmmm...  I dialed the number for this hostel and who picks up but the guy who just checked me out at the Louvre location!  Yep.  They told me this location doesn't open until tomorrow, and that I needed to go back and stay one more night at the Louvre location. So, this got me thinking that maybe the apartment was going to be the best course of action since these hostel people were not doing the most stand-out job.  Maybe if this apartment really sucks AND if the price is right...

By this time, I had been schlepping my bags all over the metro and Montmartre for a few hours and my shoulders were begging me for a break.  I found a cute little corner cafe that looked like an appropriate spot to people-watch and bang out some postcards, so I sat down at a tiny outdoor table.  After about ten minutes I realized no one had seen me sit down, so I popped my head in and asked if it was okay that I sit "there" indicating the location of my tucked away table.  They said no problem and sit down and we'll be right out to take your order.  So, five minutes later, server #1 popped out to take my order.  Cappuccino??  No problem.  I was forewarned that the milk takes at least five good minutes for her to properly froth.  I said that was absolutely fine as I was especially fond of a frothy foam.  Flash forward five minutes and out comes said server with a cigarette and a friend.  I just patiently wrote second-hand-smoked cappuccino-less postcards.  I thought for sure she's going to come right out after her cigarette break with this coffee...  Nop!  Four postcards later and almost an hour after I had originally sat down I thought, "Okay, there is no foam on earth luxurious enough to merit this wait", so I popped in to cancel my order.  My servers eyes doubled in size when I told her I was still waiting for my coffee.  She shot daggers at server #2 (who said, "Here it is!" and pulled my cappuccino out of the refrigerator???).  I told them not to worry about it and took off laughing a little to myself and in hopes of finding some speedier service...

So, there I was, installing me and my bag-lady-like assortment of gear at cafe #2.  I ordered and enjoyed a cappuccino.  Brilliant.  The bill came and forty-five minutes later I finally came to terms with the fact that no one was coming back to pick up my money and bring change (since I didn't have the exact amount).  Oh man.  Here we go again.  Ha (by now I was laughing a little less enthusiastically)!  I jumped up and loaded my shoulders with luggage and brought my tab with the money inside.  Server #2 accepted the bill with incorrect change and quickly brought it to server #1, who was casually flipping through the morning paper, and didn't even turn around, but instead burped out a "Merci!" as if to accept my incorrect change as a tip for ignoring me for an hour.  I literally stood and stared in disbelief, mouth agape, in the direction of the back of my server's head.  I honestly did not know what to do next.  Finally, the barmaid broke the silence - "Are you all settled?" she asked.  I replied, "I'm settled, but I haven't received my change yet."  Server #2 brought over my change and I rallied my caffeine-calibrated body parts to find this apartment...

Once I had properly explored this neighborhood and deemed it as safe and cheap and a great way to get out of the most touristy parts of Paris, I arrived at the apartment building as-advertised.  The ground floor was spiffy with an enclosed courtyard and glass doors and beautiful spiral staircases, but - not unlike many apartment buildings in Paris - as I climbed up six stories the stairs, the walls, the ceilings, the welcome mats appeared less and less storybook...  By the time I got to the sixth floor; there was a solid stench, the wall paper was discolored and peeling, and the ceiling was dripping with a questionably dank substance.  First, the landlady showed me the working toilet on the floor, equipped with one tiny wrought-iron-barred window.  From there she steered me down a narrow hallway, a walk that had me wondering which dingy apartment door was hoarding the toilet seat...  Haha!  Finally upon unlocking the door to possibly my own place in Paris for the next five nights, I discovered that the "apartment" was the size of my mom's walk-in closet.  Oh my gosh - so small!  Free wifi, yes, working kitchen, yes, heater, yes, clean sheets and towels, yes...  I wondered what was exactly the price of privacy (as that was exactly the opportunity cost here).  I left, thanking the landlady for her time and apologetically admitting that I was not prepared to pay 235 euro for four nights in hell (she pounced a last-minute 100 euro deposit on me - huh?).  I jumped on the bus back to the Louvre hostel location and happily unloaded my things in my original room (assuring myself that - no matter what the price - clean and safe was an unbeatable combination)...

With little time to spare, I was off to yoga!  On my walk to the studio I spotted a - hold up, what?!?! - MEXICAN restaurant.  With burrito on the brain, my concentration in class suffered, so much so, in fact, that while the rest of the class conquered the spinal and seated series' I was already settling into cheese enchiladas.  I ate and tried to grasp how much like a sitcom my day had been.  Not much of anything happened and, at the end of it all, I ended up exactly where I started.

Still, in Paris - here, where the streets are paved with poodle poop - the fun never ends!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from Paris!

Today after breakfast I set out to run to the Eiffel Tour, and you’ll never believe this, but I ran for twenty minutes in the wrong direction.  Haha!  I was at the Place de la Bastille before I realized my mistake.  Due to this blind trust of my terrible sense of direction, what had started out as a forty minute there-and-back fun run turned into an hour and a half knee-grinding, hip-popping mini-marathon.  Oy!

When I did finally make it to the Eiffel Tour, I found it crowded with tourists from all over Europe and Asia.  I heard so many different languages: Arabic, German, Russian, Chinese, Korean, you name it!  Globalization at it's best?  My cold Christmas jog back along the Seine brought on the starkly contrasting feeling of solidarity with local hardcore athletes who were also running along the river alone.  Church bells all over town were ringing and a half moon hung in the day sky, making this particular Parisian morning just a tad more magical.  

I made it back to the hostel and realized that if I was going to get to yoga, I required a nap.  After a quick lunch, I conked out for a good two hours straight.  Yoga was calling, but first I had to turn the town upside down to satisfy my intense craving for banana nut bread (Thanks, MacDonald’s).  The five o’clock class was crowded, so we sweat a lot!  My back bends were back (Woohoo - I saw the tip of my mat!), but my legs felt like lead throughout the entire rest of the standing series.

I grabbed a mushroom and emmental cheese crepe from a vendor outside the Pompidou on my way home and made it back in time to skype with my family Christmas morning.  

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Upholding a Moor Family Tradition

I woke up early this morning to skype with Billy and grab a decent breakfast downstairs: coffee, muesli, yogurt, and baguette with butter and honey.  Not bad! 

First order of business was to get some stronger coffee.  Then, buy some postcards.  Then, it was off to yoga.  Today, our instructor started the class in English and then asked me after the first posture of the standing series if she could teach in French for the sake of the French-speaking debutantes.  I, of course, nodded my head yes and we went along without another bump in the road.  I saw some minute progress in the back bends, but my triangle pose was really weak on the left side.  Again, a kink that will work itself out along the course of my ten days here.  After a nice shower, I started home, stopping into Sephora to shamelessly use all their testers (Sneaky or resourceful?  You choose!).  Maybe my lipstick was a little too pink because my remaining walk home resulted in blatant stares from strangers and a random guy (he must've been 20!) inviting me to a par-TEE.  I responded with awkward silence.

A restaurant in the neighborhood called Au Chien Qui Fume (At The Smoking Dog) caught my eye with a front window display of fresh seafood.  I thought, "What the heck!  It's Christmas Eve after all."  I sat down and enthusiastically ordered fresh oysters (a French tradition) and French Onion Soup (a Moor family tradition).  Though a little pricey and *a lot* lonely, this dinner treat felt right.  The service staff was nice and fast (a very unusual combination here by the way), and then the bill came.  Once I put my debit card down the staff ignored my table for a solid 45 minutes.  Were they giving me the cold shoulder? ...time to digest?  When I finally got someone’s attention, I ordered a petit café (espresso) to enjoy out on the heat-lamp-warmed terrace.  The people-watching on this night was spectacular.  A winter drizzle brought out fur collars, high-heeled boots, a million different color pea coats and the most elegant selection of umbrellas I’ve ever seen.  People were scurrying around with arm-fulls of last-minute Christmas shopping.

After writing and stamping a few postcards I walked to the Louvre courtyard where several glass pyramid structures lit up the dark stormy night.  The rain-soaked night air was refreshing, but my instincts (and my right hip) were telling me to turn in early.  So, I headed back to the hostel where a single bed warmly welcomed my yoga weary body with cotton sheets and a thin plaid flannel blanket.

Monday, December 23, 2013

J’aime Paris

My coach Maguy dropped me off at Orly airport today and, after climbing the smelly metro stairs and weaving through the streets of Paris, wet with recent rainfall, I found my hostel tucked in a touristy corner of town.  What this hostel lacked in ambiance and free wifi, it made up for in cleanliness, safety, and location, location, location.  (It's a stone’s throw away from the Pompidou, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and – this is the best part – a short walk to the local Bikram yoga studio!). 

It didn’t take me long to get settled in and then I was out the door to sniff out my second home for the week: the yoga studio!  Besides the obvious signs, like museums and Starbucks, one way I could tell I was in a touristy area is by counting the bagel and burger joints.  I found the studio without too much trouble and signed up immediately for a 10-day introductory class pass that included a mat and a shower (only 35 euros - what a deal - right?!). 

Ahhhh!  After all the delicious French food I've been eating, I'll admit my yoga costume didn't fit exactly like it used to...  Ha!  Nevertheless, it felt so great to push my hips and lock my knee for an hour and a half in the 40 degree heat and humidity.  The most difficult asanas were the back bends, which require the absence of fear, but I have faith that I will overcome that later this week.  After class, I grabbed a most delicious toasted whole wheat bagel with cream cheese (five months deep into France I figured a bagel was going to do me some good) and then stood in a long line at a Mediterranean deli next door to get fresh dolmas and hummus. 

It’s so great to be back in Paris.  I love everything about this city...  the sights, the sounds, and even the stinky smells.  

That's all for now.  More later!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The French National Team

The husband of my coach is the Head Coach of the National-Championship-winning professional men’s team in Tours and also Head Coach of the Female French National team (who has been practicing here this week to prepare for their World Championship qualification matches against Bulgaria, Croatia, and the Netherlands).  So, I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday watching the women’s French National team trainings that have been open to the public at the Palais des Sports in downtown Tours.  These ladies totally rock and inspire me by the way they play the game.  Their power and speed is just astounding!  They don’t make mistakes.  Here is me with my two favorite powerhouse players, both outside hitters:

These girls make the ball go BEAM!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Incredible Story of One Lucky Mitten

After the farmer's market this morning, I headed north on my bike to stock up on staples that don't grow from the ground here like maple syrup, muesli, and oat milk.  Once inside Auchan (European Walmart equivalent that normally makes me think deeply about the Russian anarchist group Voina, but that's a different talk show...) I noticed that one of my new gloves was missing!  I immediately retraced my steps back to the bike rack, but turned up nothing.

After coffee and shopping I retraced my bike route home scouring the ground for one bright green mitten.  Turning around the second time, I started hearing my boss at SweetWARE in the back of my head quoting Einstein "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  I'm having visions of Tom Robbins' Skinny Legs and All, my bright green mitten bravely striking out on it's own and making it's way in the world with other escaped inanimate objects.  This was craziness, and I loved these gloves so much...  I was determined to reunite this perfect pair.

Flash forward three hours, I'm walking and looking.  After no more than fifteen minutes of walking up the street like a crazy person with one glove on (which apparently is the international sign language for "I've lost a glove")  I hear a woman from across the street yell "Madame!"  Yeah?  She's sitting at the bus stop about to catch a bus going the opposite direction.  You will not believe this.  She goes, "Have you lost a glove?"  I reply, "Why yes, I have!"  What a coincidence!  I cross the street and she explains that she picked up my other glove on the bike path a few hours ago and took it home.  She happens to live nearby and can get it for me and it will only take a second...  We walk together for a minute (I'm feeling much less crazy by now) and I agree to wait on a bench outside the entryway to her building.

A few minutes later, an old woman wearing kinda outlandish jewelry and a disheveled hair cut cops a squat next to me and almost sets her scarf on fire lighting her cigarette.  She asks me if I'm visiting someone here.  I tell her I'm waiting for someone.  Not much time passes before I see two people in scrubs leaving the building, which is when I ask the woman next to me if this is a hospital.  She says, "YES, this is a psychiatric hospital."  Uhhh...  The crazy is starting to creep back.  Haha!  Now, I'm sitting here wondering if this lady is going to come back with a rubber ducky declaring "Here's your glove back!" ...or just forget about me entirely.  Wrong on both counts.  Wonderful woman #1 restores peace to my universe and I walk home (so overjoyed) with two warm hands.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ready to Wear

Today I went shopping for warm winter clothes in downtown Tours (Thanks, Meghan!).  I bought a pair of boots with fur lining, some (fabulous) bright green fingerless wool gloves with mitten flaps, and navy blue low top Asics (not especially warm, but will *for sure* help me go undetected as a foreigner in far more social situations - that is - until I open my big American mouth to talk or laugh abnormally loudly).  Haha!

Since today was the first day of real winter weather (ie in the negative numbers, fyi -1°C = 30°F, ex see breath, check, frost doesn't melt, check, need visible confirmation that fingertips still exist, check), this cash gift from my beloved sister arrived just in the nick of time.  And guess what?!?  I only paid...  drum roll please..........................................................  75 euros!  Ah yes, because today I was welcomed into French hand-me-down heaven.  Here they call it Prêt à Porter (Ready to Wear).  One step inside this particular thrift shop and I knew immediately that I had struck second hand store gold.  In fifteen minutes flat I found three completely unique (basically new) items that fit like a charm.  The price was right, but - being the huge cheapskate that I am - that didn't stop me from haggling anyway and getting everything marked down another 15 euros.  Sold!  I wore the boots and the gloves out of the store and a huge dumb smile on my face for the rest of the day.

I'm so warm! ...and, I tell ya, it's getting harder and harder for peeps to pin me as 'not from around here'!  Double score!

Friday, December 6, 2013

All I Want for Christmas

Here's my Christmas wish list:
1.  peanut butter power bars
2.  refried beans
3.  $ for travel (Paris/Amsterdam???), gloves, and winter boots

Of course, if you want to send a care package, pretty much anything you can think of will be appreciated.  You can sponsor #3 here just by clicking the big blue button that says donate.

I'm wishing everyone at home a great holiday!  Big huge hugs!

Random Ramblings - Part II

The *Right* Right of Way

After getting (almost) run over several times, it has been explained to me that the right turn *always* has the right of way here.  So, for example, say you're driving fast down a straight road, but you're approaching an intersecting street on your right.  If and only if there is a vehicle barreling down that street about to make a fast and completely legal right turn onto the street upon which you are driving, it's your responsibility to prepare to stop.  

Video Killed the Radio Star

You don't have to be attractive to be on TV here.  There *are* lots of attractive people on TV here, but it certainly does not appear to be a universal rule like it is in the States.  There are loads of normal looking people on TV.  Makeup, lighting and airbrushing are used sparingly.  This has not affected how disinclined I am to watch TV.  When I do, every other commercial is for cheese or chocolate.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sick and Tired (In the Best Possible Way... Hehe)

Starting my sixth week of a fifteen week jump training program called Air Alert!  My body is beat, but I'm jumping higher all the time.

Also, my jump serve is steadily improving.  Maguy has helped me in practices to systematically fix one thing at a time.  First, she fixed how I hold my serving hand.  Second, she fixed how I hold the ball.  Next, she fixed the height of my toss.  Then, she fixed how far I stand back from the end line and the size of my steps.  Finally, how high my hand is at the point of contact.  Now, for the first time in my life (and thanks entirely to Maguy) I can confidently say that I have a killer jump serve.  Woohoo!

On Sunday, we lost to the third seed in our league (25-22, 25-7, 25-20).  I can't even describe how frustrating this game was...  What an emotional roller coaster!  We came so close in the first set only to totally implode in the second set - starting out badly with a slough of unforced errors and then ending in a disappointing 12 point rut (stuck in a rotation we just could not sideout).  I didn't even make it to the service line...  Competing in that third set was not enough of a consolation to comfort us from the single digit shut out.  Ugh!  After it was over, I just went to the sideline and wept.  The locker room was quiet, but I wanted more than anything to tell my team, "I'm sick of losing.  I know we can compete with these teams!"  So, I just blurted it out...  Everyone was looking at me like, "Uhh.  You're speaking in English."  Haha!  Here's what I was having trouble with:

AVOIR MARRE DE - to be sick/tired of
j'ai marre de
tu as marre de
il/elle a marre de
noux avons marre de
vous avez marre de
ils/elles ont marre de

RIVALISER - to compete
je rivalise
tu rivalises
il/elle rivalise
nous rivalisons
vous rivalisez
ils/elles rivalisent

So, the phrase would've been:
"J'ai marre de perdre.  Je sais qu'on puisse rivaliser avec ces équipes là."

I'm more fired up than ever to WIN and I believe our team is right around the corner from really performing.  This week, I'm taking Maguy's advice and tapering my double days.  All this down time is freeing me up to rest, write, and chomp at the bit...  I'm excited to have a great practice tonight and blow our rivals out of the water this weekend!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Slowly Into Winter

This morning, like every Wednesday morning, I rode down to the Les Halles Farmer's Market.  Most of the leaves are fallen now.  The bare trees revealed a low haze over the Loire river valley, rendering the morning sunlight cold and wintry.  Since we've been working on blocking this week and I don't have gloves, my Wednesday morning ride turned into a (much needed!) cold air ice bath for my hands and fingers.  Haha!

I'm getting to know my way around here pretty well and now I can't even remember the last time I was lost.  I'm also finally building up a rapport with the local farmer's market merchants.  They recognize me now and greet me with a more familiar generosity in their eyes.  Today, two of my favorite people - mushroom lady and artisan tomato man - weren't there and I almost cried because I look forward to our exchanges so much.  I've become quite appreciative of their tiny acts of kindness and their willingness to engage a lonely stranger.

All romance aside, though, the farmer's market is just a great place to practice my french and increase my food vocabulary.  I've become quite adventurous lately, asking random people questions about the different vegetables and their favorite preparations.  For example, just today I took a chance and bought a quarter of a huge warty looking pumpkin with instructions that involve peeling, boiling, draining, and mashing with milk, cinnamon, and sugar.  Doesn't that sound delicious?!?

French Milestone #2

Someone asked me for directions!  Yay!

I was riding home from a record-speed shopping stop today and a nicely dressed older woman stopped me to ask where the nearest Picard (French frozen foods store) was.  After barely containing my excitement about being asked for directions by a (possibly senile?) native French speaking person in the first place, I apologized that I wasn't sure, wished her a fine day, and pedaled ahead.  Sure enough, less than a minute later I spotted the Picard.  I wasn't going to miss this opportunity to help someone in need (it's a very rare role reversal these days...).  So, I pulled a uey to let her know that it wasn't much further up ahead on her right.  Nothing like a French Milestone and a good deed all rolled into one to make today a great day!