… would the customs official checking your passport also give you his phone number.
Since January’s review of Taken, the most action this blog has seen has been when I log on to delete all of the spam comments I receive, and I think it’s lain stagnant long enough. The next two weeks of vacation should provide me with ample time to do some sort of abridged six-month retrospective on some of the funny things that have happened, in no particular order.
So to begin where we left off but a little later, I’ll start with…
The Tale of Guacamole Jr, the Little Axolotl that Could…n’t
Once upon a time, Laura was scanning YouTube for entertaining clips, as one often does. After following a strange rabbit hole-like trail of videos that she later could not recount, she somehow landed upon this fated gem: the axolotl song.
I had never heard of an axolotl. It sounded made up. But evidently, not only does it sing and dance with maracas, it also has some fairly fascinating physiological characteristics. While researching, we found the Scottish website www.axolotl.org to be quite informative and the FAQ section to be quite entertaining, but the main gist of the axolotl is that it is an animal that can either stay in its neotenic or larval state for its entire life without ever transitioning to adulthood, or it can pull a transformer and morph into a salamander.
Anyway, the song became sort of a cult hit (I say that in the loosest possible sense of the term… really I mean that amongst the ten or so of us we just started singing it a lot… or a lotl, if you will.)
Shortly thereafter, the Salon d’Agriculture came to town. The principal attraction for me was the goats, Lauren was after the sheep, Jillsa wanted to see the cats and dogs. We passed a lovely afternoon with the farm animals and were just about to leave in search of food when, lo and behold, there they were: tank upon tank of axolotls. And unlike the cows and horses and pigs, the axolotls were for sale. It took Bastien all of two minutes of consideration, five minutes of selecting the right tank and tank décor and the axolotl was ours.
He came in a plastic bag, his little white nubby eyes taking in his new family, his creepy little fingers wiggling in excitement. Because axolotls are native to Mexico, and because we had previously had an unsuccessful attempt at growing an avocado named Guacamole, our new axolotl friend was dubbed Guacamole Jr.
He went to live happily at the boys’ apartment with a panoramic view of Paris and the Eiffel tower. Periodically people fed him chips and beer to supplement his normal diet of bloodworms. Sometimes he would get to come out of the tank and do things like go in peoples’ mouths, or crawl around on their stomachs. It was the best of times for young Guacamole. He had his whole future ahead of him. He could become a salamander! He could stay an axolotl! Either way, he could spend all of his days in the City of Light with people that loved him!
Well, most people loved him. There was one. There was one person that had other plans for young Guac. Thomas was waiting for the right time. The others couldn’t be there, they couldn’t know, they would try to stop him, he might fail. He devised a ploy, an alibi, the perfect cover story for the perfect crime. He would act like he was cleaning the tank. He would say he was taking care of the pet, being responsible, and then…
Thomas poured out half of Guacamole’s tank water. Guacamole wiggled his creepy little fingers in excitement. New water! He gazed at Thomas adoringly, admiring his black-framed glasses, wishing he had a little Guacamole Junior sized pair of his own. Thomas placed the tank in the sink. He spun the faucet and turned on the flow of water.
Hot water. Like boiling hot magma water. By the time Laura came into the room, Guacamole was upside-down and looking rather not alive. She suggested the refrigerator. They waited. News of the boiling spread.
That evening, the announcement came. Guacamole Jr had indeed passed on, victim to the fiery waves of Thomas’ wrath.
The boys wrapped him
unceremoniously ceremoniously in a napkin and placed him outside on the balcony to mummify while we waited for the weekend when the proper funeral arrangements could be executed. Eulogies were drafted. We imagined little Guac finding his salamandy mate in some sort of amphibious heaven, finally emerging from his neotenic state, losing his weird feathery gills and turning a gross greenish-brown color. But not Lauren. Lauren imagined dissecting the axolotl, curious to know what was inside that slightly translucent, weird little body.
And with a souvenir corkscrew from La Rochelle, she did it. Until Loic put an end to things and sent Guacamole Jr to his watery grave via the goldfish route.
And that is the definitely-not-approved-for-PETA tale of the little axelotl that was.
When I first started telling people I was moving to Paris, I got a variety of reactions. Some people were excited.
“Ohhhhh, Paris! I love Paris!”
Some people were curious.
“Ooooooh, Paris, why?”
But more often than not people said this:
“OH MY GOD, have you seen Taken??”
Yes. Yes, I have seen Taken. And I’m happy to inform everyone that after four months, I have successfully avoided being sold into the underground Parisian sex trade, freeing Liam Neeson from any obligation to implement his particular set of special skills to save me. I consider this a veritable réussite.
In case you have not seen Taken, I will summarize.
Taken begins by painting a portrait of Liam Neeson’s character. His marriage has dissolved and his ex-wife has moved on. Despite his stoicism and his notable set of particular skills, he is a sad character. The only point of light in his life is his daughter, who giggles a lot and also sings.
This daughter decides to go to Paris with a friend. Liam Neeson has his reservations, but the aforementioned ex-wife thinks she should be able to spread her wings. So she goes. No sooner has she arrived than she and her friend are targeted by a secret agent representing Paris’ underground sex-trafficking ring. They install themselves in a luxurious apartment, which within minutes is promptly broken into by a band of aggressors representing Paris’ underground sex-trafficking ring.
Liam Neeson’s daughter calls Liam Neeson to inform him that she is in the process of being kidnapped by representatives of Paris’ underground sex-trafficking ring. He implements one of his particularskills (advising) and tells her to hide. Under the bed. But to leave the phone on, so that when the time is right, the kidnappers from Paris’ underground sex-trafficking ring can pick up and he can tell them all about his particular set of skills, a skill set from which he will be borrowing in order to hunt them down and retrieve his daughter.
Things move quickly from here. One of Liam Neeson’s particular skills is speed, and he’s on it. Upon arrival in Paris, he promptly infiltrates Paris’ underground sex-trafficking ring. One of his particular skills is resourcefulness. He learns that most of Paris’ underground sex-traffickers are Albanian, so he finds an Albanian cab driver to serve as his interpreter. When said interpreter doesn’t really work out, it’s okay, because one of Liam Neeson’s particular skills is rapid-fire language acquisition. Within minutes, he is halfway through his English-Albanian dictionary and practically fluent, which ends up being unnecessary because all of Paris’ Albanian underground sex traffickers speak perfect English, with only the slightest villain accent.
Liam Neeson finds various clues as to his daughter’s location, and finally manages to hunt down some of the sex traffickers using his particular skills. It’s very interesting because he finds them in an abandoned quarry/construction site. I don’t know if you know this, but central Paris is full of abandoned quarries. Liam Neeson then engages the underground sex traffickers in a high-speed Jeep chase through the abandoned quarry involving lots of bombs, SUV’s, and particular skills. It’s very intense, and highly realistic.
Then, a short while later, after using some of his newly acquired Albanian, Liam Neeson finds his daughter’s friend. Unfortunately, Liam Neeson’s daughter’s friend lacked one particular skill that involved staying alive. But Liam Neeson can’t be bothered by that; he leaves her in an underground Parisian sex-trafficking den and moves right along. One of his particular skills is not reverence.
Then Liam Neeson finds himself on a boat!! Liam Neeson is on a boat and Liam Neeson’s daughter is also on the boat, but she is being hoarded by the villainous Jabba the Hut, who purchased her at an auction sponsored by the underground Parisian sex-trafficking ring. The boat is full of armed Albanians, but Liam Neeson is not fazed; he has particular karate skills to rival Jackie Chan.
He also has the particular skill of being quite the assassin, so even when his daughter’s face is mere inches from that of Jabba the Hut, he successfully, particularly, aims and shoots the villain in the forehead, freeing his daughter from his grasp.
Then it is implied that another one of Liam Neeson’s particular skills is piloting a large yacht, because now that all the Albanians are dead, he is the only one who can navigate them back to Paris, and then to Charles de Gaulle, and then home to America. Where his daughter, unscarred, untroubled, and perfectly well adjusted starts voice lessons with a famous pop singer.
Taken has three stars on IMDB. It earned 144.9 million dollars at the box office.
Well, France is en grève and it is making things interesting. The national strike has been going on since last Tuesday now, and it means that transportation is un petit peu difficile. Of course, I decided that mid-strike would be the ideal time to get out of town and take the train to Dijon to spend the weekend with Hazel and crew on the Roma.
On Thursday afternoon, I went to the SNCF boutique to get my train ticket. There were four people in front of me, and three people working. Guichet C was only for people who had made appointments to buy tickets. Guichet A was functioning, if slowly. And Guichet B was inexplicably fermé with it’s fonctionnaire busily doing things like reorganizing envelopes and ignoring the customers. After forty-five minutes of waiting, my number was called. I asked if I could please buy a ticket to Dijon.
“C’est pas possible,” he responded, a phrase that I’m become fairly familiar with here.
Evidently, due to the strikes, SNCF did not yet know which trains would be running the following day, and when. But, he explained, even though he couldn’t help me, I could look online that evening because the schedules for the following day are posted at 5. I looked at the clock. 5:15. D’accord.
So later that night I hopped on SNCF.com and sure enough the schedule for the next day was posted. No TGV’s, it said, but the TER (regional train) was running leaving from Paris Gare de Bercy at 7:20 a.m. Three hours on the train, I could finish my reading for school and be in Dijon by 10:15 to meet Hazel and go to the market. Perfect. Purchased.
I woke up at 5 a.m. and was on the metro by 6:15, making my way to Bercy. It was still dark out, and freezing; the sunny week had ended with a serious cold snap. I went to the little kiosk, found my reservation, and printed my ticket. Then I looked at the screen to see where which platform my train would be leaving from. No train on the screen. Looked at my phone. 6:55. Then I noticed a little sign.
Due to the national strikes, TGV Number 95053 from Paris to Dijon will be leaving on time from Gare de Lyon.
I read it again. Gare de Lyon. I went to the guichet.
“Hello, excuse me. I’d just like to confirm. I’m on the train that leaves in twenty minutes for Dijon. Am I understanding correctly that it is now leaving from a different train station?”
So I grabbed my ticket and my bags, made a mad dash back to the metro, got to Gare de Lyon, sat down on my train at 7:19 and we were off.
After a few minutes, they made an announcement. I heard something about passengers going to Dijon, but couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. Half an hour later, after our first stop, they made the announcement again. That time I made out something about passengers to Dijon and a bus. I felt confused, and suddenly very unsure of myself.
I asked for clarification.
The man I spoke to explained to me that the next stop, at Laroche-Migennes, was the final stop. In response to my blank stare he smiled and said, “Bonne chance.”
Bonne chance indeed. The train stopped at Laroche-Migennes at 8:15. Later, in recounting this story to Hazel and Phillipe, I would have Laroche-Migennes described to me as “dodgy,” “sketchy,” “scary,” and “the armpit of the Burgundy railway system.” I disembarked and asked one of the SNCF employees on the platform where I went to catch the bus to Dijon.
“Oh, it’s very simple, you just cross the parking lot and you will see the buses at the far end.”
Seemed straightforward enough. I walked under the tracks and crossed the parking lot and, lo and behold, there really was a bus there. Only upon closer examination, it turned out that bus was headed in the direction of Lyon. Come to find out that my bus, the one destination Dijon, wouldn’t be arriving until 10:45. Approximately two and a half hours from then. I looked around. Foggy. Freezing. Nothing open in town. I looked back at the station. One bench. Freezing. Twenty people waiting. But at least they had a coffee machine.
So I dutifully waited for my bus, cold and exhausted, rode it three hours to Dijon, and then met Hazel at the train station, arriving at last on board the Fandango roughly eight hours after I had left home.
All that to find out that, around the time I was enduring my second hour of Burgundy bus riding, Daniel back in Paris had decided at the last minute to hop on a train that day, too. So without a ticket, he went to the train station, got on board a TGV, had a beer in the restaurant cart, never had to pay, and was in Dijon in less than an hour and a half.
Maybe you just have to be French to understand how it works.
Anyway, after a really lovely weekend on the Roma, it was time to head back to reality. Specifically to my 5:00 Monday evening class in which I had a 20 minute presentation due. The train ticket I had originally purchased had me leaving Dijon at 1:59 and arriving in Paris at 3:30, with plenty of time to go home, drop my bags off, and get across town to class. Sunday afternoon, I got an e-mail from SNCF.
“In order to let you know ahead of time,” it stated formally, “and to minimize the inevitable problems related to your voyage, we wish to inform you that due to planned strikes, rail traffic shall be perturbed on October 18th.”
Mais bien sûr.
It went on to state, however, that I could board any train between Dijon and Paris either that day or the next. So I was hopeful. Even if my train was cancelled, there had to be at LEAST one train running. After all, the official announcement was that one out of every two TGV were running normally, and with six or seven trains a day headed to the capital, that should be no problem, right?
Sunday night, I went on the SNCF website to find out what trains were running. Website down. Went back a little later. Website down. Called the phone number. All operators busy, call back later. Called the phone number. All operators busy, call back later.
So we decided my best option would be to get up as early as possible, go straight to the little train station in St. Jean de Losne, get on the little commuter train to Dijon and find out in person how and when I was going to get back to Paris to go to my class and do my presentation.
At 7:00, I woke up and we went to the train station. It was vacant, with a little sign hanging on the door. It was foggy. And silent. I almost expected a tumbleweed to roll across the tracks, and a vulture to be circling up above. We approached the station warily. The sign on the door was a schedule, a list of all the trains running that day from St Jean to Dijon. The list was long. Unfortunately, they had highlighted all of the trains that were actually running despite the strike. And I had missed the last one by a good hour.
We circled around to the back of the station, where through closed blinds of a locked door we could see a dim light. We knocked.
An irritated looking man in an SNCF uniform answered. We asked politely if there were any more trains that day going to Dijon. He pointed to the sign on the door as if we were idiots.
“Non. C’est indiqué la.”
We asked politely if there would be any other form of public transit connecting St Jean to Dijon that day.
“Oui,” he replied shortly. “The bus.”
And how, we inquired, might one go about finding out the bus schedule?
“I don’t know the bus schedule,” he answered, before closing the door again.
I felt a slight panic. The website wasn’t working. The phone system was too busy. Even the actual employees in person at the train station weren’t able to tell me how to get back to Paris. Should I just start walking? Was there a bike? Driving wasn’t a choice; I had no car, I don’t know how to drive a manual even if I had managed to negotiate borrowing one, and, to top it all off, there was a gas shortage due to the strikes and not a single gas station in town was open.
So we did the only logical thing and went back to the Roma for a nap in front of the stove followed by champagne lunch. At 2:00, Jean Luc was headed to Dijon anyway, so he drove Hazel and me into town and dropped me at the station. If I was lucky, there was a 4:00 train that normally ran from Lausanne in Switzerland to Paris with a stop in Dijon, and rumor had it that the international trains would be running as usual. So, with a useless TGV ticket in hand, I huddled on the platform with what seemed like a thousand other people all trying to get to Paris.
When the train pulled up to the platform, it was a mad traffic jam of people all trying to squeeze on, sit down, and fit themselves and their luggage into any available space. I pushed and shoved with the best of them, and miraculously managed to find a little corner in the hallway where I could sit on my suitcase, read over my notes for my presentation, and know that, late though I was for class, I was at least headed in the right direction.
So just over an hour late, flustered but in the right city, I made it to class, we gave our presentation, and thus ended my formal schooling in transit strikes in France.
So, part of my program here in Paris (in addition to the classes and workload that I’ve been buried under… excuse the total lack of posts) is working as an English teaching assistant in a French lycée, or high school. As one might imagine, the process of becoming employed by a French governmental entity, especially the largest (and thus most bureaucratic), is not especially straightforward. Last summer, I received my school assignment: Lycée Jean-Lurçat in Paris’ 13th arrondissement. After that, it was radio silence until I arrived.
Fortunately, NYU has a teacher who is helping to coordinate all of our teaching assistantships. Unfortunately, that doesn’t even begin to make it less complicated.
As of last week, some people in my program had actually already started teaching. Most people had at least had meetings at their school. Some knew what their schedule was going to look like. I, however, was still completely clueless. Last Friday we had a ‘journée d’accueil’ where we were officially welcomed and given a long list of tasks and paperwork to complete in order to do things like get French social security numbers, be reimbursed for transportation, and, not least of all, get paid. Then on Wednesday, we had a ‘journée de formation,’ which in theory was a training day but in actuality was a chance for me to take a much needed nap in a comfortable chair in an auditorium while listening to French people try to explain how one might use a comic strip in an English class.
This very helpful journée de formation took place right at the very moment that I was originally supposed to go visit my school for the first time and meet the teacher I’d be working with. But alas the training was OBLIGATOIRE and so I rescheduled my rendez-vous at the school for Friday morning at 10:30.
Friday morning arrives. At this point, I am the ONLY student in my program who has not started teaching, much less not even visited their school or met their teacher. I’d been unable to reach the English teacher by e-mail (who checks e-mail?) and so the NYU coordinator had gotten me in touch with the proviseur, or principal.
I arrived at my school promptly at 10:30. It appeared to be some sort of break time. All of the students were outside talking and smoking. They were all taller than me, even the girls. And they all looked significantly older than me. I was officially intimidated. I went inside. Not immediately clear where an office or reception area might be. I wandered. No labels on the doors. I wandered back in the direction of the front door and noticed a little room with a man in it.
“S’il vous plait, monsieur, excusez-moi… je suis le nouvel assistant d’anglais et j’ai un rendez-vous avec Mme Mathieu a 10h30 .”
Excuse me, sir, I’m the new English assistant and I have a meeting with Madame Mathieu at 10:30.
“Vous avez un rendez-vous avec Mme Mathieu?”
You have a meeting with Madame Mathieu?
“A quelle heure?”
…. At what time?
“Ok, attendez, je vais la chercher.”
Ok, hold on, I’ll look for her.
He leaves his little room and turns to speak to the woman right next to me, who evidently did not hear this exchange.
“Your appointment is here.”
“I have an appointment?”
I introduce myself. She seems flustered and confused. “Oh, we planned this for now? It’s really not ideal that you’re here in the middle of the recreation (break).”
I think back to her e-mail. “Come at 10h30, during the recreation.”
“Ok, venez, je vais chercher Mme Husser, je vous emmene dans la salle des profs.”
Follow me, I’m going to find Mme Husser, I’ll take you to the professor’s break room.
I picture her leaving me in the professors break room, with a room full of French people wondering who I am and staring me down. I follow timidly.
We walk into the salle des profs and she heads toward a group of three woman in the corner.
“Ah, voila, Mme Husser, I have here your English teaching assistant.”
As I step forward, smiling, to introduce myself, the woman responds.
“I am not Mme Husser. And I do not speak English.”
Now I’m really concerned. The principal doesn’t even know what my professor looks like. How are we supposed to find her? Was this meeting not planned? Does she exist? What is going on?
We spend another five minutes trying to track her down. We look at her class schedule. It’s not immediately evident whether or not she is even at school today. It still remains unclear to me whether or not she is real.
Eventually, the principal has me write down my phone number and then asks me to please call her next week to see if she has managed to find Mme Husser by then.
And so I left. And we’ll try again next week.
Welcome to working in France.
Well, well, well and ho la la, here I am, en route to France at last. The past few weeks have been noteworthy, between:
the window installers finding my passport
an amazing amazing surprise going away party at Via Tribunali
My last morning in Seattle started with poor Mac throwing up ALL OVER my bed four minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off. I think he was distraught that I was leaving. Or that he was going to be left out of Peso’s breakfast, which was our plan for Taylor’s birthday… until we got there at eight and found out they don’t open until nine. We improvised and made our own breakfast, with some seriously spicy habañero hash browns. Right around the time we finished breakfast, the boys were on their second football game (and accompanying beer), and I realized it was 10 am on the day that I was supposed to leave for France and had a minor panic attack.
Yesterday (Friday), Dave lifted up my suitcase and confirmed my suspicion that, yes, it was significantly over my 23 kilogram Air France limit. So this morning’s task was to reappropriate the 90 pounds of belongings to which I had whittled my life down across several bags, rather than one. This was easier said than done. Thank goodness Dave was there, because I emptied my suitcase and then sat in the middle of the floor staring at all of my things and feeling overwhelmed. Somehow, and with shockingly perfect timing, we managed to get to the airport and check in two bags that clocked in well under 23 kilos.
After intermittently napping and crying my way across most of the continental United States, I decided to watch a movie. Halfway through said movie, I got the Air France blue screen of death, which kindly informed me that the system was partially inoperable. Specifically, the part that I had been watching.
Granted, Sex and the City 2 is neither the most riveting nor suspenseful film in the world, but I’m now faced with the prospect of another six hours sans entertainment, save these mini bottles of wine and some food magazines.
I suppose it could be worse. At the very least, my lack of entertainment got me to draft my next blog post, so that’s something. It’s just too bad the internet doesn’t reach this high, otherwise I could be posting in real time from (almost) space.
Right when I thought the saga of the visa was about to come to a successful close, fate in the form of my passport threw a wrench in the spokes and sent me spiraling into a highly unusual (seriously) state of hyperventilation, stress, and swearing at inanimate objects. Last Friday at 11:30 a.m. was my visa appointment at the French Consulate in San Francisco. Last Thursday at 2:55 was my flight to San Francisco to go to my visa appointment at 11:30 on Friday morning. Last Thursday at approximately 11:00 a.m., I neatly packed all of my paperwork into my bag and double-checked that I had my passport.
I didn’t have my passport. At first, I was completely calm. “It was just sitting right here on my bed, it must have just fallen somewhere,” the stable side of my brain reasoned. But thirty minutes later, having stripped the sheets off my bed, army crawled through the entire house, scoured the backyard and even checked inside every single box in the freezer, my hope was waning and my stress was mounting.
I called everyone who might be anywhere that may have possibly seen my passport and at one point even enlisted the help of the three contractors remodeling Haylen’s bathroom in the hunt for a small, black passport case. No avail. At this point, I realized I hadn’t packed, hadn’t showered, was thirty minutes away from needing to leave for the airport, and was one hundred percent convinced that I was going to have to skip my flight, get a new passport emergency issued to me, and run and/or hitch-hike down the 5 to my appointment. I was in tears, my room was in shambles, my parents were on a hunt for my birth certificate and poor Dave was clicking patiently through the auto attendant’s menu at the Seattle Passport Agency trying to find out what my options were while I continued to crawl, dig, tear, and throw things in my quest.
At this point, I was literally seeing red and could not have made a reasonable decision if my life depended on it. I had somehow gone from “Oh, I’ll find it and figure it out,” and made the irrational leap to, “If I don’t find this in the next two minutes everything I have done in preparation for France will be in vain and I will not be able to go and I won’t get my Masters and I’ll never get a job teaching French!!!@*^!”
Thankfully, someone was still in capable-of-problem-solving-mode, and Dave suggested I call the Consulate to see if maybe, juuuust maybe, the French would grant me my visa without a passport.
And you know what? The French really came through on this one. Let me come, flipped through my Encyclopedia Brittanica of application papers, smiled and said merci and I was on my way. All that remains is to send them a passport, which I’m not ready to assume will go smoothly just yet.
We enjoyed the rest of our San Francisco weekend, and then came the next adventure: acquiring my new passport. If French bureaucrats are the masters of unnecessary paperwork requirements, US government agencies are the masters of the interminable waiting room, the robot operated phone system, and the strange ability to employ an astonishing percentage of seriously incompetent employees.
Yesterday, after spending some time on the website (confusing) and figuring out what exactly I needed (confusing), I called the Seattle Passport Agency (confusing). Ah, the auto-attendant. I was on the phone for THIRTY ONE MINUTES with a robot. I’m pretty sure it went something like this:
“For English, press two. You have reached the Seattle Passport Agency, located at 915 Second Ave. Our hours of operation are blah blah blah…. These are the services we provide: blah blah blah… “
“… Now we will give you a ten minute explanation of what the Seattle Passport Agency does [as if the name wasn’t sort of a give away?] with no way to skip to options or speak to an operator…”
“If you need a passport for travel within the next two weeks, or for a visa, press two.”
Me:(pressing two) Yay! We’re getting to the end!
Then came the appointment scheduling, which went something like this: “For the next available appointment, press one.”
“The next available appointment at the Seattle Passport agency, located at 915 2nd Ave in the Federal Building in Seattle, WA, is Wednesday, July 28th, at 9:00 a.m. If you would like to accept this appointment, press one. For the next available appointment, press two.”
I’m thinking I’ll go by on my lunch break.
“The next available appointment at the Seattle Passport agency, located at 915 2nd Ave in the Federal Building in Seattle, WA, is Wednesday, July 28th, at 9:15 a.m. If you would like to accept this appointment, press one. For the next available appointment, press two.”
Keep in mind, now, that this robot speaks particularly slowly. And so for every single 15 minute increment of time between 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., I had to listen to her recite the same two minute sentence.
Which is why I made my appointment for 11, instead of noon. Because I literally could not be on the phone anymore.
I shouldn’t really have bothered with a specific appointment time, though, since once you pass through security at the Federal Building, pass the security guards on the 9th floor outside the passport office (where, FYI, they make you throw away your coffee because “there is no coffee allowed on this floor”) and enter the agency office itself, it is an absolute cluster of understaffed waiting room misery. It felt like some form of purgatory, like being trapped in the foyer between the DOL and Jury Duty.
I checked in, got my number, sat down. A0041. Surprisingly, getting all the way to A0040 took less than the hour that they had predicted it would take to actually be seen. It was A0040 that really did me in.
The girl in front of me stood up when they called her number. Shaved head, gauged earrings, a sweatshirt with a red star on it. Then her whole family stood up with her, and they walked to the window.
Man behind window: “Can I see your driver’s license, birth certificate, and passport application please?”
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: “Well, I might have to have my family help me explain this one, but…
And then she launched into one of the most absurd stories I have ever heard. Apparently she has lived her whole life in West Seattle. But she was not born in a hospital. She was born at home, and the mid-wife whose responsibility it was to file for a birth certificate never did so. Seemingly, her parents never noticed, because she was home-schooled until she went to community college and so never, apparently, had need of a birth certificate. The passport man did a complete electronic file search, and said that he could not even find any record of her existence until she was close to ten years old, because she never had any interaction at all with any sort of state-sponsored organization before that point. In lieu of legitimate documents to support her identity, her family was there as her phone-a-friend-fallback, and they each spoke up in turn.
Brother of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: “I was actually there for the birth, and witnessed it, in our house. I can say so on oath or whatever.”
(concerns about a young boy watching his mother give birth at home?)
Mother of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: “I have an article that I wrote about this… I mean it was never published, but I sent it out to be published, but I didn’t bring it. But I could.”
Father of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: “We also have this journal we kept through my wife’s pregnancy, detailing everything through the birth.”
Aunt: “I also have this birth announcement I made to send out to our friends, back when she was born.”
(all very legitimate sounding)
The man behind the counter looked unconvinced, and graciously said he did not need to read the pregnancy journal.
When I left, they were still sitting in the waiting room, attempting to scrap together evidence that this girl had, once upon a time, been a baby that was born in this country.
And so for all of my visa-related angst, I could at least say that someone in that room was worse off than I was.
The artwork depicts someone under the use of laudanum, an opium-related drug […] popular amongst […] prostitutes. The artwork suggests a strong feeling of peace and romance that we found typical for the overall atmosphere of this environment.
Wow, sold. I do love the romance and peace of that prostitute-on-laudanum vibe.
I have been scanning Craigslist Paris on a daily basis in hopes of finding a really adorable, really affordable place to live in the center of town with a large balcony and lots of windows and plenty of space to store my clothes and shoes and house any and all visiting friends. This has proved to be a moderate challenge.
The most common response that I get from would-be renters is… none.
Also, and you may have heard tell of this phenomenon, but Craigslist is full of clever Nigerians known as “scammers.” It’s sort of easy to tell when a posting is a scam, with the poor grammar, the too-good-to-be-true rent, the assurance that the renter is praying for your well-being and your honesty, and their location in, say, China. But, alas, I am holding out hope that I actually WILL find a too-good-to-be-true living situation, and so I consistently fall prey to their sales pitching.
Today, I received a response that added a whole new level of intrigue to this apartment quest. I sent an inquiry in for an ad for a studio in Montparnasse: an innocuous enough advertisement, nothing overtly strange. Miraculously, they responded, and at first glance this e-mail seemed, well, normal: proper grammar, pricing information, a person with a real name, no requests for bank transfers… though the request that I send them a picture of myself if I was still interested seemed peculiar.
Then I clicked on the link they included, and HOLY SHIT. What is this place?? (answer: “a semi-commune dedicated to artsy poverty”). If you don’t read the whole article, here are a few choice excerpts:
“From the outside, that structure is near-invisible. Inside, it is seemingly endless, a rabbit warren jerry-built out of tin, ductwork, gaffer tape, plastic sheeting […] [the] dwelling began as a hole in the garden covered with boards, later augmented with found materials, like pieces of parquet floor from the renovation of Versailles.”
And stranger still:
“To live in the Territory, one must follow 135 rules, which include elaborate habits of communication (via walkie-talkie) and egress (everyone must master exiting in one minute, with passport, laptop and pants), so that no one will ever be harmed in a fire. Other rules encompass kitchen etiquette, the management of the “strategic reserve” of 300 frozen salmon and the necessity of obeying the Art Class Alarm, which draws together the Territory at any hour, night or day, for an art project.”
At this point, my fascination was such that I had to research further. And I found that, like all poverty-stricken artist enclaves, The Territory has a facebook page.
The page enumerates more of the rules of the Territory, and answers some Frequently Asked Questions, such as:
17. How long has the Territory existed?
Over ten years – and since time immemorial in the collective unconscious.
18. How many people have worked on the Territory over it’s ten years of underground existence?
Hundreds, hundreds of Territory victims….
19. How can I join the Territory?
How can you join the Territory? How can you join the Territory? How can you join the Territory ? How can you join the Territory?
20. Is it true that the Territory has rules?
Yes, there are nine pages with 156 rules. Here are a sampling:
#23: NO DEEP FRYING or cooking in a fire dangerous way
#45: Do not touch the lamp inside the fridge
#34: No drugs. Drug addicts are a fire hazard
#134. Burying dirty dishes in the garden = Territory banishment for three days
#132. Urinating in the sink is forbidden.
#135. Using the common sponge as toilet paper = no internet
21. Can you give me directions to the Territory?
Yes – head towards the Eiffel Tower and make a left……twice.
Alas, despite a solid two minutes of Google searching (that’s a long time when you’re as good at the internet as I am), I could not find photos to really represent the space. So it’s up to me and my overactive imagination to try and picture what in the world this place looks like, and this is what I’ve got:
Honestly, so far… this place is my best option.