Thursday, November 03, 2005

Job? Check. Apartment?

So after all the plane flights and resume-dropping and general stress of job-hunting, I landed a big one. I'm moving to New York to be a "Business Analyst" for Macquarie Holdings, an Australian firm that buys the hell out of companies and stuff. For various reasons, I'm totally stoked: everyone at the company seems really laid-back and fun, I get four weeks of vacation, they're going to send me to Sydney for three weeks for training, and, most importantly, I get to learn how to buy companies. Awesome. I start work on November 14th.

I've been apartment-hunting in Manhattan since Monday, and it's been quite the memorable experience. The low point came yesterday afternoon at a building off Convent Ave in Harlem. In one building the super says (in his Jaime the Science Friend drawl), "Come here, check this out, this one isn't for rent yet, but you gotta see this. Only in the movies, man." And what do I see inside the first bedroom?

All the windows are covered with black paper, there are dim red lights everywhere, and there's some huge S&M rack complete with ropes and rods and scaffolding and shit. The super said when the last tenant moved out, she just left it in there. He has it on eBay (though I couldn't find it in a couple minutes of searching), and says he has offers for more than $3500 already. "You never know who lives next door, man," says the super. Thanks, buddy! Now how the hell do I get out of this building?

I did, however, find a nice apartment at 123rd St & Broadway, just north of Columbia, that I'm going to make an offer on this morning. It's kind of sort of in Harlem, which sounds scary to a white honky from Florida, but I explored the neighborhood last night at around 10PM and never once felt like I was going to get a shiv in the kidneys. There's a bar/restaurant that looks suspiciously like the Miracle of Science, a couple Chinese take-out restaurants, a yuppy-looking Thai restaurant named "Blue Angel", and a convenience store on the corner that sells fancy beers. I did, however, have to spend quite a while reassuring my poor mother that I wouldn't be killed or mugged were I to live there. I think I shouldn't have mentioned the housing projects up the street.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Please, Sir, May I Have A Job?

As you may or may not know, loyal readers, I'm looking for a job again. And since I'm trying to switch careers already (a novel feat, considering I've yet to hold a full-time job for more than four months) most of my previous job experience is entirely irrelevant. This, then, is how I find myself marching around MIT's uncomfortably hot Johnson Athletic Center in uncomfortably stiff dress shoes and an uncomfortably woolen suit. Not that the experience is novel. I'm almost positive I've yet to miss an MIT career fair. This career fair, however, is different. At this career fair, I'm wearing the stinky cologne of desperation.

Well, it's not that bad. It looks like I won't have much trouble getting a job in investment trading, and those positions not only pay well but also give me a chance to learn about a wide variety of investment products and methods. And if that doesn't sound exciting, I really don't know what does. So far, however, it looks like they'd ask me to relocate to New York, Chicago, or D.C. And as much as those jobs aren't my first choices, they're a lot better than sleeping on my friends' couch while sending out resumés and making phone calls.

Which brings me to the real source of desperation, honestly: I want to get off my borrowed couch and have a home. It's stressful enough to be living out of my car, but I feel even worse cluttering up Tony, Tony, Brian, Bryan, Greg and Magellan's living room. Wherever I end up, I'd like to end up there now, please.

But things are looking nowhere but up, happily. And I think I got all the angst out of my system, so you shouldn't be hearing any more of this from me.

Upcoming Features:
A Caucasian Male's Handbook For Meeting Asian Parents
Survivor: Breakdown In The Bronx
Scarred By Logic Puzzles At Eight Years, Made For The Street At Twenty-One

Monday, March 28, 2005

Joyeux Pâques, Happy Easter.

A quick note, because life's been hectic. Yesterday we invited four or five people over for an Easter meal in the middle of the day, which featured traditional Provençal preparations of lamb, potatoes, salad, and more potatoes. And some chocolate-and-pear cake. And lots of wine, and then some champagne. We're running a four-star restaurant at 4 rue Barthélemy. Actually, that's a joke we can't seem to stop making, and it's getting old. Not that it was very funny to start with -- I'm pretty sure it's just amusing because of our limited French skills.

After the huge meal, Stéphane disappeared into his room and passed out until 8PM, thereby missing his chance to go in to work. Score one for food coma. Incidentally, food coma in Italian is "abbiocco." I'm trying to learn a little Italian, since there are so many willing instructors around my apartment all the time. So far I've got the subjects and present-tense conjugation mostly down, along with some random filler words. Learning a language is a lot more fun this way, even though I'm sure it's less effective than taking a class. I get to learn more curse words, though.

To shake off the abbiocco, we decided to go for a walk to the beach, about forty-five minutes to an hour away. Well, everyone else did, Victor and I drove. We passed the afternoon, until sunset, at a little port named Vallon des Auffes that was tucked away on Marseille's coast. I uploaded a few pictures of it, so you can see for yourself. It's really magical, as it's about thirty or forty feet below the rest of Marseille at that point, you can't hear any of the noise of the big city, and it's filled with the kind of colorful little boats you imagine in a small fishing town. A great place to watch the sunset, too.

Today we're hoping to rent a car and go to Avignon or Montpelier, since the weather is beautiful and the Monday of Easter is a jourférié, or day off, in France. We'll see how that goes, however, because we've gotten a late start.

Check out the pics on flickr. There are also some random pics that I haven't put in photosets of our trip to the Calanques, which I should write about, and some random around-the-house pics.

Signing off, til next time I get a chance to sit still for half an hour.

P.S. I realize I should probably clarify something. The name of the city I'm living in is spelled "Marseille" in French, and "Marseilles" in English. So while I keep writing Marseille, which is kind of technically misspelling it in English, I suppose, I'm not just entirely an idiot who doesn't know how to spell the name of this city.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Oh, Right. Paris. Part One of Umpteen.

I realized why I've had a little trouble finding my muse when I sit down to write about Paris. SPOILER ALERT!!!!!: It's because I write principally about things that go wrong, stupid things I do, and occasions when I comically fail to understand French people. I just complain a lot. It's pretty much the formula for this blog, and I'm sorry if I'm ruining the aura of mystery for you. I've tried to write about my trip to Paris a couple of times, but the problem is that I keep trying to write about all the beautiful things we saw, the pleasant cafés, the museums. Unfortunately, I'm completely unable to write about happy, beautiful, and interesting things.

Notre Dame de Paris

Instead, I thought back on the crappy things, and the times when the whole trip almost went disastrously awry. I made a list (imagine me stretching my fingers and cracking my knuckles in a dramatic fashion). Now we're ready to rock.

So first, we were almost late for the train. Barely made it to the train station before the scheduled departure time. I blame it on the fact that Sarah had a huge effing bag, or maybe on the fact that I decided to start packing about twenty minutes before we had to leave. Anyways, I climbed the stairs into the train station at a lumbering sprint, trying to avoid tipping over, as the giant bag slung over my shoulder made me more than a little top-heavy. I skidded to a stop in the huge, expansive train station, and started looking for our train on the departure board.

French train stations are huge. Well, I've only seen like three, but they're all immense and open-air and awesome. It's like a big roof with probably two and a half walls. The beginning of the train platforms, as well as the waiting areas, are completely covered, but the trains stick out beyond the station for most of their length. And then the train station in Avignon was built almost entirely of steel and glass. You can tell where all the ridiculous taxes go.

So we looked around this huge place for a second, and saw the information for the TGV to Paris. It was forty-five minutes late. We decided to eat sandwiches.

Most sort-of-fast-food joints in France have really good sandwiches. I mean, baguettes with all sorts of fresh stuff on them and the like. What they don't have, however, is reasonably-priced beverages. Two euros, minimum, for a little can of soda. The Orangina I bought was three. Four euros, at least, for a 50cL bottle. That's like the kind that you get for $1.25 at Chicago Pizza. And even in restraunts, they're rarely cold. Cool, maybe. I don't know who's running the drink racket in France, but there's really room for some competition to knock the legs out of the market, assuming it's not being run by some French mafia. And even if it is, [surrender joke].

Anyways, our train eventually showed up, I managed to decipher the instructions being spoken over the PA system, and we made it to the correct seats. We spent the five extra euros necessary to grab first-class seats on the TGV (there was some kind of promotion), figuring that we might as well ride in style. It was about as totally sweet as expected, with large comfy seats, but there was a disturbing lack of free alcohol. Evidently that part of "first class" is only known to bankrupt American airlines. Sarah slept through the whole trip, while I went to the "idSomething" car in the middle of the train that was supposedly serving refreshments. In hindsight, one should never say, "Gee, that item looks good on the menu, but no one's ordering it. I should go ahead and try it!" Evidently in the refreshments car on the TGV, the baguette sandwiches suck. I think I chipped a tooth. And they gave me an expensive bottled water when I asked for the cheap one, but I was too bewildered to complain. I then proceeded to sleep through the final two hours of the trip as well.

We pulled into the Paris train station groggy and dazed. As we meandered down the platform towards the main part of the station, I started thinking about what to do next. Grab the Metro, I thought to myself, and head towards our hotel. Which is over in... Montparnasse, right? Let me get its name and address out of my bag.

The name and address I never printed out, that was most decidedly only stored in my Gmail account, online. On the Internet. I, however, was not on the Internet. I was in a train station in Paris. Sarah, having just woken from a three-hour nap, and severely confused by the time difference, was too out-of-it to be frustrated with my incompetence. Unlike me, however, she at least was fairly sure of the name of our hotel: the "Royal Bretagne." I sheepishly approached someone at the information booth:

Me: "‹So, ah, I know this is a little weird, but I left the address and, ah, name of my hotel at home. I kind of know it's in Montparnasse. I think. And it might be named the Royal Bretagne.›"
Her: Amused gaze.
Me: "‹Yeah, I figured you guys can't look hotels up or anything.›"
Her: Nods.
Me: "‹So, err, do you have any good suggestions of where I could get that information? Or some Internet access?›"
Her: "‹You should probably try going to Montparnasse, and asking around there.›"
Me (mumbled): It's 11:30 and I'm not sure it's in Montparnasse and I swear I'll burn the place down.

We rolled the dice and found a train to Montparnasse. There was a big map in front of the huge Montparnasse train station. It was a map of the entire neighborhood, complete with all of the hotels! We were in luck!

Our hotel wasn't on it. We were standing around in front of an empty train station near midnight in Paris, and had no idea where our hotel was except that it sure as hell wasn't anywhere close. If I were Sarah, I would have killed me. I, of course, had my laptop. Our next course of action was to scrounge for some kind of Internet access or helpful information desk, starting with the train station in front of us.

The information desk was closed, but we did manage to find an Internet kiosk -- one of the standalone devices with a huge touch-screen keyboard and other obnoxious inconveniences. But it was a portal to the Internet, and we were in desperate need of said Internet. Except, of course, the fucking thing was broken.

Then, while lying on the ground in the fetal position and sobbing into my backpack, I noticed a sign on the wall that, among other words, said the one I had been looking for: "Wi-fi." I pulled out my computer, which had about 7% of its battery life left, for some reason (see, in movies, you're always thinking, God, that's so artificial. Real people would have charged their batteries, brought more bullets, etc. No. These things happen not only to make stories better, but also to make me cry). Evidently in these French train-station networks, they let you sign on through five or six different providers, if you already have an Internet account with them. If you don't, you have to pick one of them and navigate their website in order to create an account. Some of them refuse to take certain kinds of credit cards that I carry, while others seem to refuse to offer accounts, and, instead, offer dead ends. Those are the ones I tried first.

With about two percent of my battery remaining, I told Sarah that she needed to find a power outlet, stat. The resourceful girl simply unplugged the Internet kiosk -- after all, it wasn't working. So I found myself, around 12:30AM, leaning against a broken Internet kiosk in an empty Paris train station. Not only did I find myself, but I finally found a wireless network that would graciously allow me to overpay for some Internet access. And then my god-damn why-aren't-you-accessible-offline Gmail told me that our hotel was, actually, about three hundred feet from the big map we'd been looking at. Since it was technically about a stone's throw outside the official neighborhood of Montparnasse, it wasn't on the map.

Too exhausted to be righteously indignant, and happy about finally being able to go to sleep, we walked out of the train station, across the street, around the corner, and into our hotel. I've never been more happy to see a hotel that so woefully misrepresented itself in pictures on the Internet as I was that night. But at least there weren't holes in the walls.

COMING IN PART TWO: La Rue de Chinese Restaurants, subtitled "Sarah is to Chinese food as Kotredes is to pizza;" Free Admission Day at the Musée d'Orsay, aka "Everyone, Their Mother And Their Poodle Lined Up Outside The Musée d'Orsay Day;" Paris on Sunday, aka "Paris On Look Through The Windows Of Everything Closed Day."

BREAKING NEWS: A bloody war in Jeffypoo's own camp late Monday, when 20 year-old Kevin Reed, an associate of Goatboy, was shot three times - once in the upper leg and grazed in the leg and shoulder - all apparently after Goatboy and his crew made an attempt to confront his elder clone about the lack of blog updates. El Jefe was in the radio station at the time of the shooting and was not involved, police said.

Police are also looking into shots fired, two hours after the Hot 97 incident, at Yellow Fever Management, which represents El Jefe (as well as Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliot and other top hip-hop talent). This incident shattered glass on the front door and left six holes in the lobby's IKEA furnishings.

Meet Dragon-Face.

Meet Dragon-Face
Originally uploaded by ispivey.

I uploaded some pictures from the Carnivale parade and celebration in Marseille. It was colorful, loud, and sunny. The women wore more clothes than I hear they do in Rio. All the kids were being given free Silly String, armed with which they were serious holy terrors. There were also about a billion more Asian people than there were at the Chinese New Year parade -- riddle me that. Alessandro liked all the people doing Capoeira so much that he's trying to convince me to start going to lessons once a week with him. I told him I'd rather play the sweet drums. I'm still writing about Paris, but I've been hella busy. It's coming, I promise.

That's it for this edition of blogLite. Check the Carnivale pics.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

I Sense A Disturbing Pattern.

The pattern is where I wake up, do something stupid, write about it, go to bed, and repeat the next day. Except then I'd have written more, so maybe I'm a little bit off. The spirit is there, though. The spirit of my idiocy, more precisely, was sitting in the car with me on Wednesday evening at about a quarter past midnight.

Although I suppose I should back up for a minute. Wednesday at work, Laurent invited me to go play billiards with him and his friend Olivier again. Since I had so much fun last time, I readily agreed to go. Laurent, seemingly ignorant of the realities of my commute, left work telling me he'd be meeting me in forty-five minutes, and that I should grab some dinner. My commute takes approximately forty minutes to get me home, much less to billiards or, heaven forbid, dinner. I thought about this after he dashed out the door, and couldn't really come up with a good solution. I elected to, instead, stay at the office and surf the web until an acceptable solution presented itself.

Half an hour later, a solution did just that. Laurent called the office, for some reason thinking I might still be there. Possibly, he knows me. Anyways, they had been running late but could come by the office to pick me up. Procrastination rewarded, yet again.

When we showed up at the billiards club, the place was significantly more crowded than the Tuesday night we were there last. There was a small pool tournament going on, and some people playing French billiards as well. A quick side note: pool, or "American billiards," is played here with balls that are approximately two-thirds the size of our pool balls, and on tables approximately two-thirds the size of our pool tables. I don't have the heart to tell them that their name for it is stupid, because no one plays "American billiards" like that in "America." But I digress. The point is, the place was kind of crowded.

At the center table was a pair playing French billiards. They weren't scoring all that many points, however, which was kind of silly considering they were wearing special pool gloves and had their own cues. I noticed, however, that all of their shots were unnecessarily complicated -- they would hit one ball, and then have their cue ball bounce all around the table before hitting the third ball (or more often than not, missing it by an inch or two). It wasn't until later that the bartender told us they were playing with "trois bandes." That means that after hitting the first ball, the cue ball has to hit three rails before coming back to hit the third ball. And they were only missing by inches. After sixty-some rounds, they each had more than twenty points apiece. It was kind of crazy.

I don't think I've ever gotten more friendly service in any kind of establishment, as a general rule, than since I've been in France. It's rather surprising. At the billiards club, I asked the bartender if he knew anywhere nearby to grab a quick bite to eat. He seemingly didn't understand, so I repeated my question. It was pretty simple, and I was rather sure I hadn't mucked the French up.

Him: "‹Somewhere to eat? I can just make you a sandwich.›"
Me: "‹Is that very far?›"
Him: "‹Is pâté alright?›"
Me: "‹Yes, but where is it?›"

Several minutes later, having given up on eating anytime soon, I was presented with a delicious pâté sandwich. On the house. And three of our eight beers were free, too. I don't know, it was cool. I'm pretty sure he wasn't hitting on me.

I guess I should mention that I played some French billiards, and did so badly. And that's the last I'm going to say of it, because the actual playing was fairly boring if you weren't there. Even if you had been there, my game was pretty uneventful. Short story shorter, I suck at French billiards.

Cooler, however, was the Great Dane that showed up about halfway into the evening. Talk about a sweet dog. He was at least as tall as my waist, and his sad-looking face was also astonishingly goofy. He looked even goofier when some random (extremely short) French guy started dancing with him. Random French Guy (RFG) started by waving his hands around in front of the pooch's (TP) face as if he were raving, occasionally stopping to stretch TP's floppy jowls about in a hilarious manner. TP looked like a poor little clay figure with his face mushed in strange directions, and would then proceed to bat at RFG's faggy twirling hands with his big paws. RFG then started dancing around, grooving his laughably small self around to a nonexistent beat. TP responded by barking and dancing around himself, hopping up on his hind legs and waving his paws. RFG would occasionally grab TP's paws and dance around with him like some kind of disturbing high school hip-hop dance routine. I couldn't stop laughing.

But I guess I should get to the stupid. We left the billiards club around midnight, and this time were not nearly the last ones there. We crammed ourselves into Olivier's car, which was rather full of three guys and two childrens' car seats. In about five minutes, we made it to my door, I hopped out, said goodnight, and headed up to my apartment. As soon as I opened the door, I realized that something was wrong. I wanted to go to my room and turn on instant messenger. My computer was still in my bag in the back seat of Olivier's car.

I ran down the three flights of stairs again, and leapt through the front door. Of course, Laurent and Olivier were nowhere in sight. I ran back up the stairs, out of breath by this point. I'm kind of out of shape. I proceeded to look for Stéphane's cell phone, but he's currently in the island paradise of Mauritius. I woke up Alessandro, only to find that his cell phone is out of minutes. I stole his computer and used Skype to call Laurent. No answer. Olivier works on the complete other side of Marseille, twenty minutes away. I was never going to get my computer back.

Well, I eventually did, but it was a painful couple of days. At work, I actually had to do work. At home, I had to do things like "talk to people" and "sleep." It's amazing how much my life changes when I don't have constant Internet access. And that kind of scares me. But I did get my computer back, so hopefully it'll be another year or two before I'm hopelessly adrift like that. Getting my computer back, of course, entailed taking the subway from the southern end of one Metro line to the northern end of the other one -- just about the most inconvenient commute possible. I suppose it's what I get for being an idiot.

And before I forget, I was standing outside work waiting for the bus Friday afternoon to go pick up my computer when an attractive, snappily-dressed woman wearing a colorful shirt and stylish sunglasses and driving a brand new minivan pulled up to the curb. There was a "TAXI" sign on top of the van. Some dude got in and they drove off. Taxis are so much sweeter here than in Boston.

I'm so behind with this thing. I'm theoretically going to some kind of Brazilian Carnivale celebration today, and picknicking in the Calanques outside Marseille on Sunday. And did you know I went to Paris? I think I forgot to write about it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Have You Heard of French Billiards? No?

I’ve been absolutely itching to write about this, because it’s just too cool. Last week I went out to a pool hall with my boss and a friend of his (aside: the rigamarole my boss went through to be allowed to go out by his girlfriend struck fear in my heart). Laurent had really been talking this expedition up, though, from the seedy authenticity of the bar to the challenge of “French billiards.” If you had asked me a week ago if there was such a thing as French billiards, I would have called you a liar, and I would have been wrong. It’s probable that it was not only invented by the French but that it is completely unknown outside France. The gist of the game is this: you hit ball one into ball two, and then ball one has to continue on to hit ball three. If you do it, you get a point. If you don’t, it’s the next person’s turn, and he has to start by hitting whatever ball he’s been assigned. That’s it. No pockets, only three balls.

Any ways, if you think about it, you realize it’s kind of fundamentally different from how we play pool. Those of us who aren’t great at pool don’t worry too hard about exactly where the cue ball is going to go after it hits the first ball -- and even when you try and put the cue ball in a good position for a second shot, it’s still not nearly as difficult as actually hitting another ball with it. Or maybe I’m a huge baby.

So I’m standing around sucking at this game and grumbling into my beer, when the two guys who were working behind the bar come over and set up shop at the table next to us. And proceed to do pool tricks like you see on ESPN2. Like, the really good ones, too. For their first shot, they set up three balls in the corner all touching each other, hit the first ball into one of the other two, then had the first ball continue all the way down to the far end of the table, where the backspin stopped it and pulled it all the way back into the original corner, tapping the side bumper exactly three times before gently tapping the third ball. I wish I’d had a video camera.

Evidently the better of the two guys is currently ranked number two in France in this crazy artistic billiards, is the five-time French champion, and was the European champion in 1996. If you’re interested in the guy playing pool next to me, I found more information about him on the web.

Even cooler, however, was when he came over to our table and started giving us advice. He’d stare at one of us as we scratched our heads and lined up hopeless shots, then ask to know what exactly we’re trying to do. The way he could tell from all the way across the room exactly what part of the ball we were aiming at and if we were lined up too far to one side or another was just eerie. With a big grin, he’d walk on over and show me how, no, you have to hit the ball on the left side, no spin, because if you hit it on the middle it’ll take off into the bumper. And keep the cue almost completely flat relative to the table, to make it easier to hit the ball straight. And now try putting a whole lot of spin on it. He’d demonstrate, explain what he’d done, and hand the cue back.

A former world champion of a game I'd never heard of a week ago, but impressive all the same. Needless to say, I’m planning on going back again as soon as I can.

Unrelated News: Through the magic of flickr, I found an amazing shelter animals photoset. That’s the kind of stuff that motivates me to learn more about photography. Also, Iron and Wine’s album “Woman King” is top-notch.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Greener Pastures.

Following Big Poo's lead, I'm skipping town and settling down in new photo-sharing digs on Along with the new wallpaper comes a resolve to be more picky about the photos I'm uploading (i.e. no more Jonking), while also uploading higher-resolution pictures. If any of you care. Also, if you've been around our house for a few years, you can't afford not to check out El Jefe's Tnight Greatest Hits album. That's some good memories. Damn I was shaggy on that road trip.

Touristing stories will start going up this evening.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Will Smith Speaks French?

Today's blog entry has been excavated from the "I wrote this two weeks ago and forgot to publish it" archives for your reading pleasure. Don't touch the glass, you little snots.

I swear to God, I just watched Will Smith walk out on stage at the Césars in Paris (it's like the Oscars except in Paris and no one watches it) and introduce himself and thank "the Academy" in French. Kind of surreal. And he had a really good accent. Everyone applauded. And then Sofia Coppola came out and tried to speak French, and it sounded like Doug drunk in the dining room speaking French. Actually, I kid, I'd hate to insult Doug like that. It was bad.

Maybe a week ago I watched "I, Robot" dubbed in French. I've never seen the movie in the first place, but I'd seen the trailers and read the book, so I had a decent idea of what to expect. My unrelated observations are here presented in list form:
  • I understood more of that movie by reading Will Smith's lips and watching his exaggerated gestures than by actually comprehending any of the words that were spoken.
  • The dude who did the French dub for Will Smith had a notably higher-pitched voice than the man himself, which made for pretty entertaining listening.
  • Even funnier was when I could see the Fresh Prince himself snap his head around like he does, hold a long "Daaaay-umn," and hear the uninspired French voice actor say "merde."
  • Please tell me the robot's name wasn't "Sunny" in the original as well. It's hard enough to take the little iFruit seriously in the first place.
  • "Detective Spooner" sounds pretty of funny in English. "Détecteeeve Spew-nair" is just crack-up hilarious.
  • I am never going to watch an American movie dubbed in French in a theater, because I would probably have more fun burning my money.
[Ed. note - That concludes our blast from the past. Back to today's news!]

Also, Lance Armstrong is a sellout. He was quoted in a bunch of French dailies today endorsing Paris for the Olympics in 2012, not only saying that it would be a better place for it than New York but adding that the Olympics are only in Beijing in 2008 because of "political reasons." What a douche. I'm still going to watch him kick ass and chew bubblegum in the Tour this summer, though.

Finally, while in Paris this weekend, I was roundly impressed by the wholesale violation of Parisian monuments that has occurred for the sake of promoting Paris' bid for the 2012 Olympics. Both the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysées are covered in garish "Paris 2012" paraphenalia. Oh, and an immense building along the Champs Elysées is covered in an Atlas-sized Louis Vuitton bag. You need to see it to believe it. I'll post a link to the picture when it's up. Everyone's giving in to the man today.

I've got a bajillion things to write about, and no time to do it, so posts will be coming at a steady trickle. [Ed. - bad joke deleted]

Friday, February 25, 2005

Robots In Disguise

Just so you can all stop worrying, I'm able to shave again. And take pictures. Luckily, since I had no working camera during the whole time I was unable to shave, there will be no hilarious pictures of me with patchy facial hair. My roommate Victor kindly found a transformer for me, and delivered it to me complete with a bill from his store. Amusingly, I have two outlets in my room, which is enough for some combination of computer, alarm clock, and transformer at any one time -- but never all three. I overslept this morning.

Also, I thought I might be subjected to less construction noise by moving away from Massachusetts Avenue. I was wrong. While the little street outside my window is usually eerily quiet, the past two mornings it has been occupied by a crew of workmen, a giant generator, and something that makes noises like an immense cat being stepped on. The thing goes on and on with its wailing for about a minute, then ceases, then picks it up again. I really wish I had some way to record this holy terror for you listening displeasure. Don't lose any sleep worrying about me, however, because I myself haven't lost any -- since arriving in France, I've become an absolute champion sleeper. My inability to get out of bed before 9AM truly boggles the mind. And on that note, I'm late for work.

Those things I said were "Coming Next Time" when I wrote "Last Time?" They're still "Coming Next Time."

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I should re-name this blog "Ian Is Stupid."

I was sitting around at work thinking about what I could possibly write about, and everything I could come up with was either the result of extreme misfortune or gross stupidity on my part. So, without further ado, I present to you:

Misfortune and Misadventure in Marseille, rc1
  • I can't plug my U.S. appliances in over here. They have different plugs, and the electricity comes out of the wall at 220V. So I need a transformer/adapter doohickey. They're all over in the states -- just go to Best Buy, and there's a row of "Travel" adapters. I figured I could find one with similar ease in France. But since French people don't go to the U.S., and they sure as hell don't cater to the needs of Americans visiting France, they don't sell these adapters. I already tried buying one at an overpriced home-goods store, only to find that it was a 110V to 220V transformer (the wrong way, however you write it) and didn't work anyways. And then I was stuck with a thirty-eight euro (!!!!) gift certificate, written on a piece of graph paper, to a store full of overpriced shit.
  • Since I have no transformer, I can no longer take pictures. My camera is out of batteries. I don't have the doohickey I need to put disposable batteries in it. I can also no longer shave, because I never tried to use a real razor in my life. Amusingly, however, my co-workers were very impressed by my knowledge of French curse-words when I described my situation with the razor. Ha. Now give me a fucking transformer.
  • This is good if you're a nerd. I wrote a script to compile my project. Normally, you want your script to occasionally delete all the compiled files so they can be generated again. I did that, except instead of telling it to delete all the compiled files, I accidentally set it up to delete my whole development directory -- including the build script I spent the morning writing. And it did exactly that. Funny, huh?
  • I also haven't gotten a haircut since I've been here. My hair looks like it belongs on a muppet, and I can't show anyone because my fucking camera has no batteries. The best part is that when I put enough gel in it to glue Ritchie's door shut, it looks like I belong in Dragon Ball Z.
  • Oh. Oh. Answering the damn phone. God, I hate this. One second, this needs its own couple of paragraphs.

Alright, let's go. So normally answering the phone isn't a huge problem, because there are a few other people in the office, two of whom are native French speakers and two of whom have been living here for a while. My favorite solution is to let one of them answer the phone, or, if the phone is near me, to look at it like I would a rattlesnake on my desk -- that is to say, a look that screams panic and fear. Inevitably, someone else runs over to grab the phone while giving me a funny look. But my dignity is a worthy price, because I don't have to answer the phone.

Why is it really that big of a deal? A couple of reasons. Since most of the incoming calls are orders and requests for more information by potential clients, most of the people doing the calling are trained phone-jockeys -- administrative assistants, career bureaucrats, things like that. I'm sure you've all noticed that these people speak very quickly on the phone (e.g. "Hi, you'vereachedtheofficeofDeweyCheethamandHowePAhowmayIdirectyourcall?") . They've got a schpeel that starts with some sort of identification of self and corporation, followed by a formulaic request for information. Having done this a million times, they deliver this all with the poise, precision, and blazing speed of a well-oiled machine. That's the first problem.

I've mentioned before how my French is sketchy to say the least, and I have trouble understanding accents. My second problem answering phone calls is that our telephone, as quiet and staticky as it is, is like a frightening new accent that I never have a hope of understanding. I'm sure I look like an idiot standing in the middle of the room, face scrunched up in concentration, finger in one ear and phone shoved ungloriously into the other. So I've got these people speaking very-very-very quickly at me through a puny little speaker (just imagine an auctioneer speaking to you at the McDonald's drive-through in an entirely different fucking language). In attempting to maintain a modicum of professionality, I feel like it's really gauche of me to ask, "‹Wait, Mister Customer, could you please repeat the last three sentences after the word hello, using words a pre-schooler would understand and speaking slowly?›" I mean, I don't want to give some potential customer the idea that this company is staffed by idiots, even if it is.

Instead, I've developed a sophisticated and undignified "flight" method of survival. As soon as I don't understand the point of one whole sentence, I take the next pregnant pause in the conversation (which I then assume is where the caller is waiting for me to reply, "Sure, let me go send you that fax") to quickly babble my rehearsed speech: "Sorry, I'm actually just the intern and everyone else is out of the office, can I give you my boss' number?" Then, if I don't understand what the caller says next and there's another pause, I wait for a moment to see if he says "Au revoir," and if not, I start reading off my boss' cell phone number. And then say goodbye, hang up, and go splash my face with water.

But the whole point is that I always manage to avoid going through this experience. EXCEPT FOR THE LAST TWO DAYS. I've been the only person in the office because everyone else is either out or at a meeting with a client in the north of France. That means whenever the phone rings, I'm the only one who can answer it. And I can't just not answer, because I don't want my boss to show up tomorrow and say, "Hey, Ian, why weren't you at work when we were gone?" "Oh, I was there, boss, I'm just too chicken to answer the damn phone."

So if I look like a very frazzled muppet, that's probably why.

Coming next time: My documentary entitled International Apartment Drama, or Zeta Psi: Once You Leave, You Realize They Weren't That Bad.


In more ways than one, really. I meant to update a little more frequently, and I also found out this evening that the Metro in Marseille does indeed stop running fairly early in the evening. 9PM, actually, except on weekends, as my cabby informed me on the ten-euro ride from the Metro station to my doorstep. Over here, taxis are Volvos, Mercedes, and BMWs. I've seen about ten times as many of those cars with "TAXI" signs on top than I have without. It's really weird. My cabby not only spoke perfect French without some crazy accent from another country (aside: I feel so, so bad for foreigners who try and take cabs in Boston) but he also offered me helpful tips about the city, the times public transportation was available, and landmarks -- and then gave me a business card covered in local emergency numbers (including, of course, his taxi company). Oh, and he asked me if I'd called a cab as soon as I walked up to him, and I (chagrined) said no, and prepared to walk away. But he was actually asking because he didn't want to be a dick and pick up someone else's fare. Unreal.

I feel like I'm in backwards-world. More to come, I promise.

Monday, February 07, 2005

"‹Pahk the cah at Notruh Dahm›"

Regional accents are novel, funny, identifiable, and generally just a curiosity for native speakers of any language. I have really just begun to appreciate, however, that they're an absolute fucking nightmare for non-native speakers. I mean, I can understand French pretty well. If someone isn't speaking at a break-neck pace, I can usually get the gist of what he or she is trying to say. Oh, right, and as long as they're speaking with an accent from the region of Paris.

Yeah, well, I forgot to look at a map before I came to France, and I ended up at the complete opposite end of the country. Paris is in the north-central part of France, and Marseille is nearly in the absolute south-east corner. And there's a southern accent, albeit without cowboy hats and barbeque. This accent is far more sinister, far less down-homey. Because I can't understand one single damn word of it. My roommates, relatively educated and having traveled quite a bit, speak French I can understand. Thank God. But every street vendor, baker, bus driver, subway attendant, and guy-selling-pizza-in-the-pizza-shop might as well be speaking a completely different language. I can kind of understand the numbers, so I can sort of buy food. Although this afternoon some guy tried to usher me to a seat to eat my loaf of bread, because evidently I said "No," when I should have said "Yes, I want it to go." I don't really know.

On my first day of work, I woke up and went down to the subway station to try and make my way to the office. I knew I had to take the subway all the way to the end of the line, the Ste. Marguerite stop, and then walk up rue Ste. Marguerite until I saw a hospital. Eitan had given me some kind of subway card, but I managed to leave it in Boston or something, so I just decided to go down to the station and figure it out.

Yeah, well, that was a mistake. After about fifteen minutes of trying to figure out how to buy a one-day pass when all I had were twenty-euro bills and all the ticket-dispensing machines (they all look pretty much like ATM machines) seemed to take only coins and French cash cards, I decided to go for broke and try and get a personal card that was good for a month. I waited around in the line to talk to a guy behind a window underneath a sign that said something that I thought meant "Welcome" or maybe "Eyeball," and then nervously asked how to get a personal card. He looked at me kind of funny, said a lot of things in an accent I didn't understand at all, one of which was "photo," and then said something like "good," and pointed to another corner of the station. So I went over to this machine that said "Video-phone" on it, and hit the one button in the middle of the console. All of a sudden, the machine said, "‹Wait one moment -- someone will answer you shortly.›" So I ran away from that machine, over towards what was unmistakably a photo booth. Four euros and five minutes poorer, I went back to the "Eyeball" window with my black-and-white photos.

This time, he kept saying what I had always thought was the word for "good" while pointing at a slightly different machine on the wall in the middle of all the others. It turns out that "bon" has some alternate meaning that I still haven't divined, because I left my dictionary in the States. Evidently I had to buy a blank card, and then the guy at the "Eyeball" window with the accent I couldn't decipher would put my photo and name on it. Of course, I had to ask for change first, because all I had were large bills. "‹You don't need any,&rsaquo" he said. Yeah, that one does take bills. So I bought the blank card, went back, gave him all my personal information, and then he asked for my address.

I had no idea what my address was. The city was Marseille, and the country was France. I thought the street started with a B.

I went home to find out my address. I wasn't going to spend 11 euros for photos and empty cards, and then have to buy some sort of four-ride pass for an outrageously inflated price and have the guy behind the window laugh at me as I passed through the turnstile. So I went home, looked up my address, and got to work an hour and a half later than I planned.

Tonight I was working late at the office (because I got in to work late, and despite the fact that no one else was there all day, I have a guilty conscience), when I was surprised to hear a rattling at the door and find a short, rather gnarled looking man in something resembling a uniform peering in suspiciously at me. Panic:

Him (quickly, in Marseillaise accent): "Babble-babble-babble-raaaaAAAAH!"
Me: "‹Hi! Good evening.›"
Him (more quickly): "Bab-bab-gendarmes-blah! Security!"
With this, he tugs at the identification badge on his shirt.
Me (realizing there's no other exit, dismayed): "‹I work here! I work here!›"
Him: "‹Yes, yes. Goodnight!›"

If one of my roommates orders pizza, I swear I'm going to clock the delivery guy in the face in my quest to defend the iPod in my room from burglars.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

No-Super-Bowl Sunday.

Well if that ain't a steaming pile of crap. I mean, it's the Super Bowl, not the Continental Tire Bowl. You'd think it would merit some international television coverage, but evidently they don't call it "American football" over here because they like it. And since my car transportation to Aix has to wake up at 6AM tomorrow morning to go to work, I can't even go watch the damn thing in a bar. Couldn't they just play the game earlier, and broadcast it taped in the States? That would really help us expatriate football-watchers. Sleeping through the game will probably be more enjoyable anyway, because this way Tampa Bay is most definitely going to win. In my little dreams. While the Pats are cleaning up in real life, several thousand miles away in J-ville. Ah well.

Evidently ordering pints is a novelty in France. Witness the conversation after our waiter deposits a pint of Guinness in front of me, and then two little half-pints of light beer and a bottle of Smirnoff Ice in front of my companions:

Stéphane: "‹You bought a whole pint? Of Guinness?›"
Christophe: "‹I told you, Americans love beer. It's all they drink. There's tons of beer in the United States, right?›"
Me: "‹I'm not an alcoholic, it just helps me sleep at night.›"

And let me tell you, don't try eating at a French restaurant if you have cystic fibrosis. They sure smoke like chimneys considering cigarettes are sold with immense labels (covering half the package) that say, in French, "Smoking kills," and similarly dismal things. Every restaurant looks like a sauna.

I finally got to see that television puppet show Stéphane told me about, and it's actually pretty funny. Or at least, I assume it would be funny if I was remotely familiar with any of the personages involved. It's like the Daily Show, except with puppets. It's hosted by a puppet of some famous news anchor, and I hear the impression is spot-on. There was some French actress who had some reality TV show, and evidently her life was some huge hilarious scandal. And then there was this French Prime Minister or something who came into a meeting naked, but no one noticed, which was really funny, because he'd tried to resign a couple weeks ago and no one paid attention, or even let him resign. I did recognize a couple of the puppets: Michael Jackson is impossible to miss, especially when he sings "Billy Jean," "Thriller," and "Smooth Criminal." His (shockingly true-to-life) legal defense was described as, "Sure, he gave little kids alcohol and had sex with them, but he made so many awesome songs!" And then there was Sylvester Stallone in an army uniform, professing his ignorance of the results of the Iraqi elections because he was busy invading Iran. Ha-HA! Get it? Invading Iran!

Oh, and I really need to take a picture of the bar urinals in France. There's a piddly hole in the ground, and two little platforms for your feet to the sides of the hole. You stand on the little platforms, pee in the hole, press a button, and water swirls around the base of the platforms into the hole and washes all the filth away. Two things mystified me, however: first, grown men would stand up from their tables and declare, "Je vais faire pee-pee." Literally, "I'm going to make pee-pee." Second, I saw three or four women use that restroom. There's only that hole in the ground. I don't know either. All I'm saying is that I'm not letting a woman into my room until I'm quite sure she's a she.

I want to jump at your bones!

Around 3PM on Saturday, after I'd been sitting in front of my computer waiting for people to wake up for three hours, Stéphane poked his head into my room and asked what I was doing that afternoon and evening. I, garbed in complete sleep-wear get-up in the middle of the afternoon, clearly had no other plans than to sit in front of my computer and surf the web all day. Stéphane, kind soul that he is, (and desperate to practice his English) invited me to come to Aix-en-Provence with him and a couple friends, grab dinner, and then go to a huge night club. Since that sounded marginally better than sitting on my ass, I got dressed.

Aix-en-Provence is beautiful at night, and I wish I had my camera. Since it's only twenty minutes away, I'm definitely going to go back and take pictures, so don't worry your little heads. Half our time was spent on broad, tree-lined thoroughfares (and I'm not talking about tree-lined thoroughfares like the ones we had in Boston right before the DNC -- these trees are forty-foot tall monsters), and the other half we wandered through narrow, winding, pedestrian-only streets marked by a new restaurant every fifteen feet. No shit. It's really cool. Stéphane and I met up with his friends, and then we had a couple drinks. Two notable things: in France, there's a drink called a "demi-pêche," or "half-peach," which is a fairly light beer with a bit of peach syrup in it. Sounds disgusting, tastes good. Also, the noted regional drink of Provence (and Marseille in parcitular) is "pastis," an anise-tasting liquor. It's actually just absinthe without the crazy hallucinogenic drugs. Shockingly, it was also pretty tasty. I had two.

Some parts of my stay here really remind me that many things are the same the world over. 10PM found us four guys sitting around in a bar, calling all the girls we had phone numbers for who might be in the area of Aix. Evidently the clubs in France (like some clubs in Boston and New York, especially when they're crowded) never let guys in without girls. They usually don't even let a group of guys and girls in if there are more guys than girls. Sucks for a group of four guys who want to go to a night club, and don't really know anyone in Aix. Eventually Christophe remembered that he met a couple of American girls the last time he was in Aix, dialed them up, and handed me the phone. Evidently my capacity to turn conversations into train-wrecks is not exclusive to the French language, because I managed to reveal that I went to school at MIT and have the two American girls profess to being "tired" in the same breath. I swear to god, I never learn. At dinner, we were sitting about six feet from a pair of girls (who looked to be in their early twenties) who were being relentlessly hit on by a pair of French guys who professed to be in their late twenties but really, honestly, you're too fucking bald to be less then thirty-five, dude. First of all, their dual assault of sharing their wine with the girls and teaching them how to roll cigarettes was devastatingly effective. Here, drink this, smoke this, isn't it cool how nice we are while getting you fucked up at the same time? Second, I overheard the girls speaking English in huddled conferences before attempting to string together a sequence of disagreeing, unconjugated French words at the guys sitting next to them. Feeling the need to make up for my earlier gaffe, I leaned over and said in an unmistakable native-speaker-of-English accent, "Excuse me, I couldn't help but overhear you speaking English. Where are you guys from?" Upon learning that they were from Georgia and North Carolina and studying French at some Institute for Americans Studying French or something in Aix, I decided that I was from Florida, not from Nerd-vana. They charmingly invited us to go to a bar Sunday evening at 1130PM to watch the Super Bowl. Ensued:

Christophe: "‹The what?›"
American Girl: "‹Uh, the game of American foot? Super?›"
Christophe: "‹The what?›"
Me: "‹American football. The big game is tomorrow. The Super Bowl.›"
Christophe: "‹Oh, right! I thought that was tonight. I like rugby better.›"
Me: "‹But they said they have lots of friends studying at the same school who are all going to be at this bar tomorrow night to watch the Super Bowl. Lots of American girls.›"
Christophe: "‹Hey, now I like American football!›"
American Girl (to me): "So, you speak French, or what?"
Me: "I picked it up in bars."

Speaking of which, Stéphane, my roommate who learned his English in bars while living in a Canada and in a couple of places in Asia, has been really insistent on practicing English with me. I don't mind, because it's kind of funny, and it gives me license to ask him stupid and probing questions about subtleties of French grammar. Saturday night inspired me to begin a hopefully regular feature of this blog:

FRENCH PERSON SPEAKING ENGLISH MOMENT OF THE DAY: "I want to learn more of zee English, so I can meet zee American girls in bars and pick zem up, and say I want to jump at your bones!"

We left the restaurant around midnight, and the American girls declined to come out to a club. So we forlorn four proceeded to wander around, get turned away from several clubs because of our surplus of genitalia, and settle for sitting in a bar complaining about girls until two in the morning.

It's really like I never left Boston at all, except now I don't understand what anyone is saying. But it was definitely more fun than sitting on my ass in front of my computer.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Angst-free travel-blogging.

I started keeping a journal on my computer this week. Then I spent a good several hours replicating things I had already written or wanted to write in order to tell them, via e-mail and IM, to various friends. As a time-saving mechanism, I've decided to just make the stupid thing into a blog. Now, the two or three people that care to know what I'm up to in Marseille and the thirty or so others who just have nothing to do at 2AM can all read to their heart's content, while I'm saved the burden of telling you about it. It's really a win-win.

Well, I actually do enjoy hearing from all of you. Keep writing e-mails, and answering my IMs at strange hours of the night and morning. And I'll keep putting pictures on, though I might not be able to upload pictures on the weekends -- my net connection is a little flaky. So, ah, yeah. Enjoy.

Une soirée? Please. Let's have a party.

On my second day in Marseille I met Victor, one of my roommates. Probably the second thing he said to me was, "‹So, we're planning on having a little party this weekend, do you mind?›" Since Eitan had confided in me that he spent his first several weekends friendless, bored, and alone, I was ecstatic at the thought of a party. "Of course!" I blurted back, only to remember that I needed to say it in French. So then I put little angle braces around it like this: "‹Of course!›" and he understood.

The reason for the party was that one of Alessandro's (another roommate) co-workers at the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Marseille was leaving to return to Italy in a week or two, and needed a going-away fête. Friday evening I came home from work to find Alessandro busily baking small chickens and some kind of pasta dish, having already prepared something resembling tuna salad and several bowls full of olives. I, of course, was completely confused. Where I come from, I explained, serving food at a party is something we do so the cops don't shut us down. Upon learning that I do, indeed, like Italian food, Alessandro implored me to cook some American food sometime (I think he was just being polite). Since I honestly have no idea what that would entail and am pretty sure I couldn't cook it, I asked him what he had in mind. "‹Well, what do you eat for that big American holiday, the one with all the fireworks?›" "‹Oh, my friends and I just grill frozen hamburgers and drink beer.›" He was a little disappointed, and we awkwardly stopped talking about American food.

I was also slightly confused by the lack of hard alcohol in plastic bottles, and the complete lack of beer. Alessandro told me, "‹You should run to the store to buy something to drink for yourself like coke or beer, because otherwise you'll be stuck with wine!›" I tried to convince him that I actually like wine, but we're working through some kind of ridiculously stupid and entertaining communication medium, because his French isn't all that great either. He proceeded to remind me several times to run to the store before it closed, because I wouldn't like being stuck with only wine. I gave up, went to the store, bought some huge Alsacian bottle of beer and yet another bottle of wine, and got myself locked out of our building.

Oh, as an aside, wine is stupid cheap here. I mean, you can certainly spend 15 euros on a nice bottle of wine, but you can also do what I did and buy reputable-looking stuff for 3 euros. Granted, that's like $500 or something, but since everyone here gets paid almost as much in euros as we get paid in dollars, it's cheap for them. I mean, 3 euros is cheaper than an instant dinner. Stupid cheap.

Anyways, each of the four of us also comically brought home several baguettes, leading to plenty of jokes spoken way too quickly for me to understand, lots of laughter, and a baguette that's hard as a baseball bat sitting on my desk this morning. I guess no one wanted it. Everyone also brought a couple bottles of wine, though Alessandro provided Italian wine that came in re-used two-liter water bottles. It really couldn't have possibly been sketchier unless it was in a big red gas canister. Later during the evening, during a conversation about wine which I kind of half-followed, I got a couple laughs by pantomiming reading information about the vintage from the bottle of Evian. I'm pretty sure they either thought I was honestly that dumb, or were laughing at the American trying to make a joke in French.

I'd been a little unsure what to expect from this party, because throughout the week Victor, Alessandro, and Stéphane (the third roommate) had been exchanging laughs about inviting "beaucoup de filles!" or "lots of girls." A few too many laughs. And it would really have cemented my bid for a sitcom if, come Friday night, it had turned out to be some huge gay party. Awesome. However, evidently I was just missing some jokes, or girls are funny, because there were indeed "beaucoup de filles." In fact, not a single other guy showed up at our apartment; just a shitload of women. And when Alessandro went to bed around midnight with a sick stomach, that left Victor, Stéphane, and a thrillingly mute American to entertain "les filles." I fixed the problem by breaking out the camera just in time for the rum punch to show up. If there's one thing drunk people like, it's cameras. The results found their way onto

Having an American at a party is kind of like a neat little party trick that impels all sorts of amusing conversation. For example, the French girls wanted to know what Americans thought of said French girls, in general. Before I could stammer something pleasant and flattering, Stéphane interjected: "‹Everywhere, they asked me, 'Do the girls have huge tufts of hair under their arms?' Absolutely everywhere!›" The girls then pronounced that American girls only said things like that because they were all fat, and therefore jealous. Throughout this whole train wreck of a conversation, I was unable to contradict anyone, because I don't really know the right words to do that, and certainly can't do it without taking a couple of minutes to compose a speech in my head. Stéphane also told me about puppet shows they have in France about international politics (I know, go figure) where American is represented by George W. Bush in a cowboy hat and Sylvester Stallone, who represents the run-of-the-mill American. It really makes sense that they'd pick a guy who both 1) has a speech impediment and 2) is Rambo to portray Bush's closest friend, advisor, and confidante. Actually, I'm going to stop talking about politics before I even start.

Oh, and I woke up today at noon with an immense red-wine hangover. But if that's a French party, I suppose I can live with it.