Longhorns in the Rain

I’ve often wondered how horned animals maneuver their heads with such large protrusions.  How does the longhorn know where his horns are? Do they get stuck in fences or trees? Can he feel them? 

It rains a lot here in Paris. My little umbrella stays tucked in the side pocket of my backpack, ready for a quick draw. When the rain comes down, the umbrellas come out. Nearly everyone on the streets is carrying an umbrella.  Some are long and tall with a “J” shaped handle.  Some are colored or patterned.  Mine is a grey and compact.  I hold it just above my head and it partially obscures my view. The first few times I had to walk carrying sn umbrella, I came close to running into pillars, poles and parked cars.

This morning on our walk from the train station to school, I looked down and avoided puddles while balancing my umbrella in the wind. As we walked on tight sidewalks past the other umbrella toting commuters, I saw a dance of the colored awnings spattered with droplets.  We walked in silence. Tall umbrellas shift up to let little umbrellas pass under. Some twirl subtly to the left while others sway gently to the right. We navigate the street with these large protrusions over our heads. I think we’re like longhorns, aware of our horns.

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Having Tea

According to the calendar on my computer, it is my third weekend in Paris. Debbie and I found a tea house next to our flat. Unique necklaces adorn the walls and dangle down from the ceiling. Some walls are covered in shelves holding novelty teapots, cups and books.

20160117_141411.jpgEach with our pot of green tea, we sit and reflect on the days and weeks so far.
Things I’ve done in Paris in three weeks:

  1. Cut my own hair.
  2. Saw a homeless/drunk man get escorted off a metro. It’s difficult to imagine what that scene would have looked like in a US city. The security officers seemed very kind as they shook him saying, “Monsieur”.
  3. Ate snails.
  4. Saw my high school Latin teacher while she was here visiting!
  5. Paris Animal Show. Easily the highlight of my time here so far.

On the daily commute, we’re bombarded with advertisements in the metro station. One advertisement has caught my attention from the first day riding the metro.

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After three weeks, the date for the Paris Animal Show has finally arrived. Along with our French classmate Le Python, Debbie and I had breakfast and took ourselves down to Porte De Versaille, a large exhibition hall. I know myself in large public exhibitions. I want to interact with the animals and ask a lot of questions to the animal breeders. Prior to entering, I asked Le Python how to ask some basic animal questions and wrote them down in a little notebook. I was sure to preface all my questions with the statement “Ju suis etudiante” before reading from my notebook, and everyone was very friendly with answering my questions and understanding my rough French. I asked things like, “May I hold [insert animal]?” “For how long does [insert animal] live?” “At what age does [insert animal] reach sexual maturity and start breeding?” “How many babies does [animal] have at a time?” “How much for [animal].”

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Needless to explain, I was very excited and ran away from my friends and held all the animals I could get my hands on. I held several snakes, puppies, and cats. I tried to bargain with the breeders to buy an animal. Unfortunately, no one wanted to give me a pet for free, despite my pleading “Ju suis etudiante”

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The above photo depicts me with a little curly haired cat I tried to barter for on the basis of us both having curly hair and clearly destined to be together. The woman would not budge from her price of 500 euro. I suggested 200 and moved up to 250. Sadly, we did not reach a negotiation and I had to leave this little fuzzball with the breeder.

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I saw these cat carriers made out of small oil barrels. I also saw these cat paintings.

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Le Python and Debbie had a great time playing with cats and dogs as well.

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Upon entering the venue, Debbie was approached by a lady in a cat costume and correctly answered some trivia questions and won a large envelope of edible money.

After seeing thousands of animals, I had to be escorted out of the exhibition by Le Python and Debbie. I consoled myself with a Mille-feuille when I got home.

Learning French

My baby cousin was born in 1998. At this time I was in the 4th grade, and very excited. Being so much younger than her siblings and closest cousins, she was the only one to not reap the advantage of only speaking Arabic until she went to school. We foiled our parent’s plans and taught her English well before her time. One such lesson came when we went to Wal-Mart together when she was about two years old. Greeting customers stood an elderly man in a blue vest handing out yellow stickers decorated with the Wal-Mart smiley face.

I love walmart stickers

A mature 11, I did not want a sticker. My baby cousin, however, REALLY wanted a sticker. She tugged on our sleeves and expressed her aspirations to bestow the sticker upon her little hand. There was but one thing standing in her way: She couldn’t speak English.

Along with her older sister, I coached my little cousin in a huddle next to the corral of shopping carts. “You can do it!”, we assured her, “Repeat after me: I WANT A STICKER.”

Locking eyes with me, she recited deliberately, “I….want….sticker…”

“Very good! Again!” We had her repeat the phrase many times until she looked ready. “Alright, now walk over there and say exactly that.” Pattering over to the greeter, she confidently proclaimed, just as she’d practiced half a dozen times…. “I    WANT      STICKER”. I was so proud of my brave little cousin.

The man leaned down to her level, smiled and replied, “Whuudyoo saayy?”  I saw her confidence deflate when she turned to us, unprepared to say another statement to this  man, who apparently didn’t speak English either. “It’s okay, say it again” we instructed her from a safe distance. ……  “I      WANT     STICKER!”  She raised her voice…… Again, “Whuuudyoo saayy?” We nodded to signal her request again.  Even louder,  “I    WANT      STICKER!!!”………. No dice, “Whuuudyoo saayy?”

Someone had to intervene. “She wants a sticker!” My older cousin and I seemed to shout in unison.

“Oh! Here you go!”

This is how I feel trying to speak French in public. Learning a language informally as an adult can be tricky. I learn phrases as needed and practice saying them at strangers, who sometimes don’t quite understand me. Since most people do speak some English, I don’t usually require a translator’s supervision…usually.

Daily, I think about my little cousin learning how to ask the Wal-Mart greeter for a sticker. I not to get frustrated or scared when someone speaks French to me or worse, responds to me in French when I clearly don’t speak French; I just remember how adorable my little cousin was, grinning like a little fool with her yellow sticker.

Un Baguette

It’s dark inside our small flat. I live with Debbie; she is also in the same program at Colorado School of Mines and here in Paris with me. Each day we rise, reluctantly, gather our things and thoughts and proceed to commute to school via metro, train, and finally bus. Lately, we’ve been opting to walk rather than take the bus for the final leg of our journey to school. Our little flat is situated in Le Marais area of Paris. Our school is situated in Rueil Malmaison. They are not close, but so far I enjoy the stress free commute. We herd ourselves from one vessel to the next. That’s how I’d describe the commute…. herding. Of course, it’s always fun to see the posters and advertisements along the route. Here is Debbie and my favorite poster.

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Le Marias area of Paris is bustling with activity. It’s apparently a historic part of Paris and is now rather “hip”. We live directly next to a bakery. I imagine everyone lives directly next to a bakery. After school, we walk in with a euro coin and say, “un baguette s’il vous plait”. We exchange the euro for a baguette. I’ve been attempting to cook. Debbie and I made a carrot soup together out of a home made chicken broth. So, we’ve been eating soup and chicken. We’re the thrifty girls who bring our lunch to school amid a gourmet cafeteria.

Yesterday, I took myself for a run to a nearby cemetery. Pere Lachaise Cemetery is an incredible historical site and hosts many famous grave sites. It’s lush with greenery and a labyrinth of stone walk ways.

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This wall with a statue of a woman and faces in the stone behind her sits outside the entrance to Pere Lachaise.

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Jim Morrison’s grave site was barricaded. The barrier was covered in stickers, writings in permanent marker, and mostly hair-ties. A bamboo screen, decorated with chewed gum and small notes, encircled the tree in front of the barrier. Though this grave is possibly the most famous in the cemetery, the park is really so much more than a popular tourist spot. It’s incredible.

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Much like everything else in Paris, its grande. It’s a piece of art than you become a part of as you walk through and loose yourself among the edifices of tombs.

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Along the walkway I entered from, this tomb above stands easily 12 feet tall. Not only is it a historical site, its an active cemetery, with many graves I walked past dating 2015. Curious, I did some research about this site. I wanted to know what is the tallest tombstone there, oldest? Here are some facts I found out.

  • The cemetery is Paris’s largest cemetery and largest park. It’s 110 acres.
  • To be buried there you must have lived in Paris or died in Paris.
  • The first person to be buried there was a five year old girl who was the daughter of a door-bell man in 1804.
  • Initially, the site was not a popular place to be buried. To attract more interest and funerals to the site, the cemetery administrators had famous remains moved there and grave sites constructed.

I plan to make this a recurring trip, as there’s millions of people buried in Pere Lachaise. I have many more tombs to see. I’ll leave you with this last one- that I deem “The Batmobile” of grave sites.

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2015: All The Things

As I think back on the year, its really difficult to convey how important, amazing, scary, emotional, exciting, and simply pivotal 2015 has been. Not only has it been a big year for me, but for my family as well. Let’s not forget what a great year Fetty Wap had. I sit in front of the computer, scanning my brain to recount all the incredible experiences of 2015. How do I do them justice? Do I post photos of the magnificent views I saw while hiking, driving, flying, diving, and running around the globe? Do I talk about the life changing time I spent with my family and reconnecting with old friends? Or do I make a list? I’m in awe of how much can happen in 365 days. I’m grateful for every second. I know they’ll last forever, immortalized in my memories.

Well, I’ve dusted off the ol’ keyboard… Let’s get to it! In no specific order……

  1. I suffered an absolute low in my career as a field engineer with three consecutive service quality failures on my watch and one severe safety incident when of my crew members fell off a trailer and was care-flighted to a hospital.
  2. I was laid off and so funemployed. (See many examples below)
  3. I touched US soil for the first time in over a year. I left Qatar. The manic emotions of this return still keep me motivated on a daily basis.
  4. My most excellent mother was crowned a 2015 Piper Professor and 2015 US PROFESSOR OF THE YEAR!!!! I was privileged to celebrate the former with her in May and see my mother beam as she was recognized for her high achievements.
  5. My most excellent sister defended her PhD in cancer research. I was lucky enough to attend this as well….. along with a lot of my other family.
  6. My most excellent father had a triple bypass surgery. I was again, lucky enough to be with my family and experience this together. I can’t stress how lucky.
  7. I watched my college roommate get married in a beautiful ceremony and reception celebration in scenic Tucson Arizona.
  8. I drove down Highway 1 on the coast of California.
  9. I drove myself 10,000 miles on a series of road trips in the United States.
  10. I reconnected with friends of 20+ years. After not seeing them for the past 8.
  11. I saw Third Eye Blind in concert. On July 4th. In Dallas.
  12. I went to the UK on a dare.
  13. I started graduate school! I made an A in graduate school!
  14. I played on two soccer teams.
  15. I had my face painted on all occasions whenever face painting was available.
  16. I toured a fire department and dressed up in full fireman gear!
  17. I flew in a two-seater experimental plane.
  18. I rode a motorcycle for the first time. On a highway.
  19. I rolled down a sand dune.
  20. I took a four year old to a Renaissance festival. I saw her believe in magic and fairies and time travel.
  21. I felt whole again for the first time in a long time.
  22. I threw beads from a balcony on Bourbon Street.
  23. I experienced debilitating heartburn. I went to a doctor for it. I now know what is heart burn.
  24. I went to a 10 year high school reunion. In Wakulla County. That’s Florida.
  25. I caught crabs in the Gulf of Mexico.
  26. I went on a road trip with my mom.
  27. I went on two different road trips with two of my best friends.
  28. I saw a brunch Drag Show in San Francisco.
  29. I went on a road trip with my sister.
  30. I toured the New Mexico state capital!
  31. I went to Thailand with my other best friend, Francis. We won a t-shirt contest.We also ate bugs. And curry.
  32. I drove a U-Haul trailer hitched to my car.
  33. I moved. THREE TIMES to THREE countries.
  34. I bought a new (used) car.
  35. I went to three different zoo’s.
  36. I had a most beautiful domestic partnership with my mentor.
  37. I learned some violin. I performed on that violin at an open mic night.
  38. I taught science.
  39. I had the best year ever.

I am now living in Paris for part of my degree program. While I am skeptical that 2016 could ever compare in importance, lessons and excitements to 2015, I do feel that I will be less busy and able to document the time with a more committed blogging regiment.

Thanks to Francis for reminding me to post.