April 30, 2008
In which Lauren’s fingers connect with her toes…
Today marks another foray into stretching myself to the point of pain and really kind of enjoying it. The craziest thing happened in yoga today. (I just have to warn you. You will not think this is crazy.) Basically, it is this: I bent at the waist, feet straight in front of me, and I curled my hands around my toes. That’s right. I touched my toes. I more than touched my toes. I held my feet.
Honestly, two weeks ago, I would not have been able to do that. Heck, I could have been walking around with this power for days now and not even realized it! Phenomenal what the human body can do!
In which Lauren decides how much of a Puritan she is…
I normally come to yoga all dressed in my workout pants, sports bra, and schmancy green tank top that I love. But many of the other students don’t. They’ll come from work or studies (as one would expect) dressed as normal people who didn’t just wake up and take a shower within the last half hour (and it’s noon). So these people strip out of their work dress and into their yoga kicks in a very small area behind the counter of the studio. What I mean to say is, men and women strip to their underwear mere inches away from one another in order to change clothes.
When I was in high school on the swim team, it took me years (yes, I mean that) to become comfortable enough to flash some nudity in front of my teammates. Now I’m not so uptight. All of my friends who go shopping with me are thinking, “But it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if you were just a little more uptight about getting undressed in front of people, Lauren.” Fair enough.
But today I tutored before I went to yoga, and I opted to wear street clothes. (I did however wear my sports bra all morning.) So when I got to the yoga studio, it was time for the show! I bared my very pale thighs in front of men and women (none of whom, I’m quite sure, were looking) and survived! I didn’t even blush, so maybe I’m not such a Puritan after all.
Of course, later in the lesson when Vanessa, the instructor, was having us visualize every part of our bodies during meditation, I did get a kick out of her asking us to visualize: the left breast…, the right breast…, the space between the breasts…
In which buzzsaws interrupt meditation…
There’s not much more to that one. We’re all breathing softly, envisioning every part of our body and what all, and all of a sudden BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! Some kind of electric saw starts shrilling away in the building next door. Calming. Very.
April 29, 2008
Ode to a Springtime Day in Paris
Teaching research is boring
It’s Free Cone Day
I want to play
But stuck inside is Lauren…
(Yes, I rhymed my name with boring…what’s new? Anyway, I will have free ice cream.)
April 24, 2008
After strep and a bit of recovery time, I finally got to go to yoga again today, two weeks after my last class. To tell you the truth, I was scared because I now consider yoga quite hardcore, and I’m pretty sure Alexandre knows I’m not hardcore. I wondered if he’d ask me why I hadn’t bothered to come to class for two weeks.
But it’s not like that, right? It’s only in our minds that the judging goes on. Once the class began, I remembered I was there to better myself and so was everyone else. No one was being petty about my attendance – they don’t know me! And my fears about Alexandre’s class kicking my butt… Okay, well those didn’t exactly go away. But I’m becoming a masochist.
This week, I felt like I was better able to measure my breathing, keep my abdomen in use, and concentrate on the movement of my body. If I felt myself shaking or faltering, I slowed and steadied myself, willing my muscles to stretch or balance to come.
I felt more in control, even during the push ups. I haven’t done push ups since I was 16, when I had surgery on my wrist for a cyst that was pinching a nerve. The doctors accidentally cut my tendons during the surgery, and I’ve never properly regained flexibility. To be honest, I didn’t try hard enough at the time. So my wrist is sore now, but my whole yoga adventure is part of a quest for flexibility and strength, and I suppose that includes my wrist.
I sweated a lot today. In every posture, I thought I could push no further, but then pushed, and found I could do more. At one point the teacher pulled me into some position I was certain I couldn’t have achieved on my own, but I could hold it.
At the end, during the meditation, I listened to Alexandre prompting us to feel the pressure where our bodies touched the ground and feel the ground reciprocating that pressure and supporting us. I felt deeply relaxed. I thought, “I’m glad I came.” The thought came on through the haze of purposefully not thinking of anything, so it reverberated in my head like a little revelation. I think I may go on Saturday too.
When panic is as lethargic as mine was last Thursday, it becomes something more akin to dread. In my feverish haze, the realization that I had strep throat moved me to action. But I just couldn’t move very quickly.
France’s pharmacies (and pharmacists) are so sophisticated, I was secretly hoping that I could just walk in and get antibiotics just by showing the white spots on my throat and big puppy dog eyes. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be that easy, but the pharmacist referred me to the nearest doctor with walk in hours.
However, my American insurance only covers emergency room visits. I weighed my options. Both were nearby. Either way I’d pay in advance. I wasn’t sure where I’d have a longer wait. Could I really go to the emergency room with strep throat?
I tried to call my insurance company. I didn’t know if I needed some kind of pre-approval for the claim. I called the number on the back of my insurance card. The phone card was acting up. I slumped over in the chair, completely drained from just a few minutes’ activity. Finally I got an automated message saying I should call back during business hours.
I decided to walk to the nearby doctor’s office first. However, their walk-in hours had already ended (around the time the pharmacist was recommending him). I realized I hadn’t brought my passport anyway. I walked back home to find it.
Then I headed to Hotel Dieu, the hospital on Ile de la Cite. It’s fortunate that there’s a hospital and emergency room within walking distance of my apartment. The man at the check in desk was a mumbler, and I thought I might throw up if I couldn’t sit down soon. He took his time inputting my information in the computer. I wondered if I looked as bad as I felt. Finally, after what was probably only minutes, he waved me to the waiting room.
I sat down and closed my eyes. My name was called almost immediately. The nurse took my vitals, including my temperature. She said my fever was gone. I shrugged. I still felt it, the chills and the flushes. This was just another step towards getting the antibiotics. She sent me back to the waiting area. A man sat next to me. I grappled with the thought of moving away from him, so I wouldn’t give him strep. I satisfied myself instead by breathing through my nose and turning my head away.
I didn’t sit there even five minutes before my name was called again. A nurse led me back to an examination room. The doctor entered, and I listed my symptoms again. I mentioned that the nurse had said I was no longer feverish. “You’re on the border,” she said, “37.9.” I nodded, not knowing what the conversion was. (I later checked the internet and found this to be a fever of 100.2.) She felt my lymph nodes, which were swollen. Then she looked in my throat.
“Oh yeah, those are some nice white spots there.” She asked me if my voice normally sounded as it did then (raspy and halted). Within just a few more minutes, I had prescriptions in hand, along with a note excusing me from work for three days. (I’d be contagious until Sunday.) I’d already cancelled all my babysitting and tutoring for the rest of the week.
The whole visit might have taken 30 minutes. Now it was time to pay. The caisse was closed, but I stood in front of the window anyway. I contemplated walking out of the hospital. The people sitting in the payment area didn’t seem like they’d care (particularly since they were acting closed). A man in front of me in line finally threw a small fit, and they told him to go to a different counter. But they took my paperwork and charged me 22 euros for my visit. (That is, the fee for my emergency room visit, with no insurance coverage, was 22 euros, or about $35.) I would have been more astounded if I didn’t feel so crappy.
I started to walk again, and inertia took me back to Ile Saint Louis and to the pharmacy. The pharmacist smiled at me as if I wasn’t spreading contagion in her little shop. A six-day course of antibiotics and some fever reducers cost just under 8 euros, or about $13. She gave me a paper to submit for reimbursement from insurance.
I went back to bed and effectively stayed there until Monday. In fact, on Friday, my body created cold sores in both nostrils and across my entire upper lip, giving me the Angelina Jolie effect (except not very jolie, quand meme), thus guaranteeing that I would not leave the house during my contagion and for a few days afterwards. Sometimes, our bodies just know what’s best. (I never thought I’d be saying herpes was what was best for me, ever.)
I hope I never have to go to the emergency room in a foreign country again, but if I do, I’ll rest assured that I’ll be seen quickly and treated inexpensively. Still, I’d be happy if strep throat didn’t come around for another couple of years.
Five years and some months ago, I applied for a job with an educational research firm in the District of Columbia, hoping to put my linguistics minor to use. One of the questions from my interview was: Where do you see yourself in five years?
This might be a question I need to revisit, just for fun. Or for direction. But right now I’d just like to say that I never thought that the answer to that question would be: In Paris, with three of my coworkers from that job. Regina, Cate, and Sarah arrived on Monday, and that very night we went out to the Italian place (where else?). I remember a lot of chatter, topped off with tiramisu and panna cotta.
Tuesday (April 15) started well too, with some City Walking around the Marais. I left Regina and Cate to it while I went to tutoring (and Sarah was meeting with a French girl who took her to the Grande Epicerie at the Bon Marche). Then we all met at the funicular at Sacre Coeur at 8 pm. Allen and I walked up to their small group, passing tourist after tourist trapped by Africans with friendship bracelets. Yet our friends remained unmolested. Sarah explained: one of the Africans had come up to her, and she told him, “I already did it.” That is the most awesome thing I’d ever heard. (It reminds me of Monty Python’s search for the Holy Grail: “We’ve already got one!”) The guy challenged her, asking what it was. She responded nonchalantly, “You make a bracelet.” Snap!
We wandered down towards the Moulin Rouge, glad we were passing the seedier side of town while it was still light. (Hallelujah for it still being light at eight pm!) Then we went to dinner at Chez Toinette, where I had a lovely rack of lamb and our equally lovely guests treated us to our meal. (Sarah, Regina, Cate, you are as lovely as a rack of lamb.)
And that is just about when my week came to a screeching halt. I felt a little tickle in my throat and figured it was the wine. Then I tossed and turned all night with a fever. The next morning I rose early and went to babysit Noah. I told the parents how sorry I was that I had a fever and that I could leave if they wanted, but that I’d only developed it overnight and couldn’t let them know in advance. That was okay; Noah had a fever too. (Note: I do not believe it is a coincidence that Noah and I both got a fever the same night. I’d babysat him the Thursday and Friday previous.) Noah and I spent the morning on the couch starting blandly at Blue’s Clues. He was burning, and I was freezing. Then we both took a nap. My throat was killing me, but I had no white spots to betray strep. Finally, I went home, cancelled my babysitting/tutoring with Rafaela for later that day, and passed out with my fever.
That night, Regina and Cate came over and watched some TV with us. I stayed on the bed in a heap. (Sarah had gone to Luxembourg and Germany for the weekend.) The fever persisted, and I had another sleepless night. In the morning, the white spots had developed. The strep had announced itself.
April 18, 2008
I finally got up the nerve to go to the yoga studio, and Wednesday, April 9 was my first day of initiation ashtanga yoga classes at Samasthiti Studio in Paris. Hooray! I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous because this was my first yoga class ever. (Okay, I am excepting the lame yoga classes I took at Arlington Oaks once – really it was only two classes and did nothing for me.) Not only that, but the classes are in French! I got a nice refresher on my French body parts and learned some fun pose names like chien tete en bas. After the first half hour, I panicked that more time hadn’t passed because I definitely felt like I was getting a work out. How would I be able to hold all the poses through another hour? The next half hour passed in a puddle of sweat. The instructor, Vanessa, was very attentive, coming over to fix my downward dog, give me a strap (I can’t reach my feet), and almost pull my hamstring from its moorings. Okay, what actually happened was she pushed me further into a pose, and my hamstring really wasn’t having it, and I was afraid she was actually going to hurt me. But I survived. And I did appreciate the personal attention.
I felt kind of hardcore for even being able to hold the poses for as long as the others did, even though mine weren’t nearly as stretched out as theirs were. Then at the end we did a few Oms, then a “pseudo-meditation” in a sitting/praying position. Then we laid down in a position I don’t remember the name of (and a woman came to help me get my shoulders under my body – I think now that she was Caroline, the studio owner), and Caroline lead us through a breathing/meditation period while Vanessa came around and pushed on various pressure points on our heads with some scented oil on her hands. I think I might have died and gone to heaven at this point. I was so relaxed that my body forgot that I had just strained myself to the limit for over an hour. Of course, my body remembered fairly quickly after I left the studio.
The next day I went back for more contortion! Alexandre’s class seemed much harder than Vanessa’s class, and twice I took his advice and went into the child’s pose when I needed to rest. At one point, I literally could not hold my arms in the air for another minute. However, Alexandre was very good at saying, “If you are a complete beginner, do this” and showing different levels of difficulty for achieving the postures. I learned that I absolutely cannot balance on my fesses (butt) and hold my legs up in the air, but fortunately he came over to help, and he held my legs while I held my arms up towards them. Alexandre corrected my postures much more than Vanessa had the day before, but I did feel like the stuff we were doing was somewhat more difficult (or possibly just more difficult for me, depending on my own weaknesses). I was actually glad to see that Wednesday and Thursday’s initiation classes would be different, as it ensures a more well-rounded workout each week.
This is what I noticed about yoga in my second class. Usually when I work a muscle group really hard, it is not sore until the next day. With yoga it takes about an hour, and then my entire body hurts because I feel like I’ve worked every single muscle in my body. I am completely amazed by the fact that I can feel and distinguish between so many muscles in my body. I worked all those? But, strangely, it feels pretty amazing too.
My plan is to do classes every Wednesday and Thursday, as well as those Mondays that I’m free, until the end of June. I’m sure there will be a few days that won’t work out (Elizabeth just told me about the “ladies’ vacation”), but there will be others I can add. I paid for 20 classes in advance, so I have guaranteed myself a lot of pain before the end of June. But hopefully, I’ll be able to touch my toes and generally be stronger by then too.
April 17, 2008
This weekend, April 4-6, we visited Chateau Courtomer again with Mimi and Jack. They rented a bigger car so we didn’t have to mess with the train, and we all piled in on Friday after work. About 15 people came up from Paris for the weekend, mostly the same ones that were there for New Year’s, and we (or at least I) figured it was a chance to redeem the social awkwardness of that weekend. And I did speak more French this weekend (I think), though I was once again fairly useless in the kitchen.
But speaking of the kitchen, what meals we had! This group thinks nothing of spending several hours in the kitchen to concoct fabulous lunches and dinners. On Friday night we had two lasagnas, one meat and one vegetarian, along with salad and cheese. Saturday lunch was a hearty boeuf bourgignon ladled over potatoes. There was cheese again, and so much wine, and banana bread to finish, which the French liked though they weren’t sure if it was snack or dessert.
Saturday dinner, knowing it had some excellent contenders for best meal of the weekend, went all out with piles of couscous, a vegetable stew to heap on top, and merguez and chicken. There was a cold quinoa salad with sliced radishes that I really enjoyed. For dessert, there was a perfectly white panna cotta with a rich red coulis of assorted berries.
Finally, for lunch on Sunday there was pasta with salmon (described as “un simple pate au saumon” but which was really quite good and nicer than we’d have made for ourselves for a Sunday lunch). There were also two quiches, more quinoa salad, and plenty of crusty bread. And always several bottles of wine.
Other than eat – which I must admit takes up the majority of the time, and which is also probably the most pleasant time as everyone sits around the table together talking for hours – we did very little. Allen took a long nap on Saturday afternoon, and though I intended to do some work, instead I spent most of that time playing with Michael and Katharine. Saturday after dinner Allen and I did some of the dishes and then came back into the dining room to watch a game of tarot cards, which we found to be similar to Spades (though a little more complicated). Sunday we rose late (not unlike Saturday) and were surprised (very) that the forecast of snow turned out true! It continued to snow through lunch and at least an hour of our ride home. Watching the French countryside through the thick flurries of snow was a beautiful sight.
Altogether, we had a very satisfying weekend; we practiced our French a bit, ate like kings (felicitations et merci aux chef cuisiniers!), really rested and relaxed, and experienced an idyllic snowfall.
We tackle the tough questions here at Chez Schmanz.
Tonight (April 4) at dinner with a dozen dark-haired French people, Allen and I once again heard the comment that we look alike. Sometimes I can’t believe that anyone, upon finding out that we’re married (or in the past, dating), would even bother to voice this opinion. How rude! Other times, I find it funnier, and fortunately this dinner was one of those times. After all, as I told our dinner companions, my three brothers and I don’t really look that much alike, so it’s interesting to hear that I look like my husband’s sister. (At least, I never considered us to look that much alike – different color eyes (except Alan and I both have brown) and different shades of hair – though in this picture our hair colors look more similar and our eye colors are hard to tell, and Philip and Alan have a resemblence to each other. But I think the question is – if you saw me walking down the street with one of these guys, would you ask if we were brother and sister?)
When I look at pictures of Allen and I together, I see my rounder face and his narrower, his blue eyes to my brown, my dark eyebrows to his barely visible, his reddish blond hair to my more-brown-than-blond-now hair. I suppose we both have freckles and tend to the pale (though he’s pinker). But to the French, who are more rarely blond than Americans, I could see how we fairer folk might look more alike. (Not one other person at the table had a hair color other than dark brown. And even with my hair that’s morphed firmly into the light brown or extremely dirty blond category, I seem much more fair.) Still, we’ve gotten the brother-sister comment more than once in the U.S. as well.
And maybe we do look alike. Joachin said, “On rassemble qui se ressemble,” which means that those of us who look alike group together. I just never expect the comments. I’ve seen siblings who look alike, but usually it’s to the point that you feel they could be twins (if only they were the same age). And I’ve certainly had my own family experience where siblings all have different hair colors, eye colors, and builds.
There’s a picture of us here, if you’d like to decide what you think. I guess if I get sick of the comments in a few years, I’ll just dye my hair darker.
April 16, 2008
I opened my eyes with some reluctance this morning (March 29), though I’d only taken half a dose of Nyquil to ease my cold last night. Allen coaxed me down from the bed with reminders that 11 am was soon approaching.
At eleven, we were just leaving the apartment, late as usual. My phone rang, and it was Isabelle, waiting at the Hotel de Ville. We could see the Hotel de Ville ahead of us; she said she’d get in line. When we arrived a few minutes later, I realized I didn’t know what she looked like, so I walked the length of the line with my black jacket and green bag. A blond called out my name. Isabelle. Allen and I cut the line to join her, and we’d only just exchanged names and nice-to-meet-you’s when another woman walked up and introduced herself as Kim.
Kim was the woman who had originally advertised on craigslist to gather other expat wives and girlfriends. Having traded my aversion to meeting Americans in France in exchange for additional company in our last three months, Allen and I had invited the group and their significant others to join us at the photography exhibit “Paris en Couleurs” and then to an English book sale.
A few months ago, Antoine and Typhaine had told us that Paris en Couleurs was worth seeing (et en plus, it was free). With the exhibit ending on Monday, we stood in line for about an hour to get in, along with the other latecomers. It was indeed worth the wait. The photography dated from 1907 with the Lumiere brothers. The vibrant colors showed the Paris of all our dreams. My descriptions wouldn’t do the photographs justice.
After the exhibit, Kim, Allen, and I jumped on the metro and visited the book sale at Saint Joseph’s church in the 8th. I’m not sure if this is “the” American church or not, but the volunteers for SOS Helpline, an English support line in Paris, had organized an English book sale here based on donations. Paperbacks were 1 euro each. How could we resist?
Between the two of us, Allen and I took home 13 books. Allen chose only three of those, but five of mine were Agatha Christies. I haven’t read Agatha Christie in years, but I remember enjoying her books and reading them in a day or two. (I remember an awkward time in middle school when I read our assigned Agatha Christie the evening we were given the book. The next day my teacher joked, “Anyone read the whole thing yet?” Somehow I gave up that I had. Height of loserdom.) In addition to the Agatha Christies (I should mention that I didn’t come close to clearing the table of available Agatha Christies), I also found a copy of The Giver and another of Flat Stanley (would you believe I don’t own that?) that were in excellent condition. Those will make their way back to the States and into my classroom library.
After paying for our purchases (12 euros – about 18 dollars – for 13 books), we parted with Kim and returned home. We snacked on crepes with Nutella (late lunch) and later shared couscous with cherry tomatoes and feta (early dinner) before I left for babysitting. Et voila!
April 15, 2008
Friday, March 28
Breakfast for dinner! We’d intended to go to an American restaurant to get Allen a fat, juicy burger for his belated birthday dinner, but when a free night came, he suggested we get breakfast the next day instead. But why wait for morning? I suggested we go to Breakfast in America, a diner nearby. We were hungry for a stack of pancakes drizzled with sweet syrup, and we weren’t disappointed. We both ordered the Deuces Wild – two pancakes, two eggs, and two slices of bacon. Yes, bacon! In Paris! We gobbled our food and slurped up the milkshakes (banana for me, chocolate for Allen). Making dinner even sweeter was the low price of 7.50 euros (about $10) for our dinners. (Par contre, the milkshakes were something like 6 euros each – ouch!)
When I leave France, I’ll probably miss the food more than anything else, but I’m not going to lie: those pancakes were good.