Wednesday, November 17, 2004

November 12-November 16

November 12, 2004

Something that always makes me happy:

Song of Myself
Walt Whitman

And what I assume you shall assume;
For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my Soul;
I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass.

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes—the shelves are crowded with perfumes;
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it;
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a perfume—it has no taste of the distillation—it is odorless;
It is for my mouth forever—I am in love with it;
I will go to the bank by the wood, and become undisguised and naked;
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

There is more, of course, and I may post some more later. But the first line always cheers me up when I am disgusted with the world. I read about people first discovering Shakespeare—I never felt that impressed by the Bard. I mean, I enjoy his stuff—some of it—but it doesn’t change my mood. Song of Myself does. I wish I had known about it when I was in the military (instead I was reading The Bell Jar and Kafka). When people piss me off and get me down, I just have to think of the first line of Whitman and—BAM—I feel better.

Other things that relax me or make me feel better:

Silent Night—the line “all is calm”

Jane Eyre—the line “Reader, I married him.” (Yeah, I know, totally irrational. It just makes me smile.)

Kubla Kahn—the lines “In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn/A stately pleasure dome decree/ Where Alph the sacred river ran/Through caverns measureless to man/Down to a sunless sea.” (I always call the sacred river Ralph. No one ever catches it.)

November 13, 2004

Wow, another evening wasted watching the ever-exhilarating Star Academy. I think I have previously made reference to this show but I will refresh everyone’s memory. This is truly something that can only exist on the Continent. It is a combination of American Idol, Big Brother, Survivor, Star Search, and American Bandstand. It is on every night (and sometimes during the day) and every Friday night (except last night because it was moved to tonight—a big Domino tournament took its place) for about three hours. I think back on it and realize that there is no way I can capture it for the uninitiated. There is a group of young adults, not particularly talented in any way, who live together and undergo training. Every week someone is voted out. But the characters! One of the teachers is a woman in her forties who is, as my British friends say, and absolute slapper—that is to say, a tart. I have to find a picture on the internet. The announcer is a man who wears foundation that is about five shades too orange for him. One of the guys in the Star Academy wears tight white shirts and looks like a sausage. One of the girls is about three feet tall and looks rode hard and put away wet (which I had to explain to the Brits.) By the way, her name is Hoda so I’ve got a new saying now: “Hoda down ‘n hose ‘er off” which makes the Brits laugh hysterically every time I say it. One of the other guys goes around kissing everyone—and I mean everyone!

Tonight on the show there was a number that had costumes made out of newspapers—with the guys in long, black skirts decorated with newspapers. There was a hoop dance where the guys were put in short, silver skirts. I swear I have spent the last three hours laughing so hard I was crying. We (the Brits and I) are talking about going up to Paris and watching one of the shows—but I figure we would probably get ourselves kicked out! The French take this very seriously. The other assistants don’t find the show nearly as amusing as us English speakers do. Ah, I do love a good British sense of humor. I wish I could tape these shows and send them back to my friends in the states.

November 14, 2004

Things that can obviously only happen in Valence, France: wind warnings. No storm, no rain, nothing but wind. And what a wind! Everyone was warned—several times—to stay inside today because the wind was going to be so bad. I think the trees at Camille Vernet are going to lean south for the rest of their lives. The wind was worse last night. When I woke up this morning there were branches everywhere. It was hard to get to sleep last night because everything in this building rattles. There is something that thuds loudly—it is like a door slamming open and shut. I have tried to locate it several times, but wherever I go, the noise seems to come from somewhere else.

I was going to sit in on a German class tomorrow (Dagmar is going to teach a Russian Au Pair how to speak German) but I have to go to an English class instead. Bummer. I already know how to speak English! I won’t even get to teach the class. But, seeing as how I complained about having nothing to do, I need to go.

Oh! And I think I didn’t write anything about the meeting Wednesday! All the Academie de Grenoble assistants were there and we all had to introduce ourselves and say what we do, so I said, “Je m’appelle Justine, j’habite a Valence, et je ne travaille pas.” Everyone in the room started laughing and the guy in the front looked dismayed and said, “Pas de tout?” And so I said, “Pas de tout.” (English translation: “My name is Justine, I live in Valence, and I don’t work.” “ Not at all?” “Not at all.”)

Anyway, after the meeting, one of the English teachers at the Valence IUFM (Ariane, for those of you who remember my post a few weeks ago) offered to let me come to her Primary school and help out. I, not wanting to seem ungrateful, refrained from giving my usual response when someone suggests that I work with children (which generally questions the sanity to the speaker and involves a few choice phrases describing my feeling about hell-spawn in general) and responded with, “Yes, I’d like to come to your class. It would be quite interesting.”


Yes, I know, I know. Maybe I can display my complete ineptitude with the young and she will relieve me of this obligation. Or maybe I can just… Hmm, I wonder what one would have to do to get kicked out of a French elementary school.

A couple of the other assistants are now telling me that I will love it—that they had friends who didn’t want to teach kids but who were assigned the Primary group and now they love teaching kids. But see, if I had been assigned children, I would simply have written a letter saying, “Thank you, I would love to come and visit your beautiful country, but you don’t want me around your children. Trust me. No one would benefit from the match. Good-bye.”

Well, back to Racine and Berenice.

November 15, 2004

Well, introduced the Brits to grits tonight—interesting combination. It lead to all sorts of grituitous humor. It was Llean, Jo, and Jo’s boyfriend Tom. Jo had been asking about grits so I asked Shari to send some to me. So Shari sent this huge container of grits (I was expecting maybe a packet or two of instant grits, but no—if it is to be done, then Shari does it right!) I put in one cup of water and three tablespoons of grits. The Brits hovered over me, fascinated. They were completely unconvinced that I had the proper amount of grits in the pot—they kept suggesting that I add more. At one point I had to chase them away from the stove because they kept lifting up the lid to look at the grits. I only made one serving because I knew they would just want a taste. I plopped the bowl of grits down in front of Jo along with the biggest spoon I could find. She looked absolutely appalled and barely dipped the spoon into the grits. She got it up to her mouth, then said, “it looks like sperm,” then put it in her mouth, almost blowing it out her nose she was laughing so hard. Then it was Llean’s turn. She also took a little taste on her spoon, and made a face when she put it in her mouth. “It’s awful!” she exclaimed.

“Hey, now! That’s my heritage you’re insulting,” I replied.

“Do you suppose Bush eats grits every morning?” Jo asked.

“Probably,” I said.

Then it was on to Tom. He got himself a huge spoonful… then poured most of it back into the bowl. “It’s not that bad,” he said, “it just has no taste. You need to add something to it.”

Then it was my turn. I’ve only had grits maybe once in my life—when I was in the Army—so I didn’t have any positive memories about the stuff. I was about to eat my spoonful when Jo said, “What are you afraid of—it’s your heritage, remember? It’s like eating a big bowl of Bush.” That reduced us to hysterics for several minutes.

It was all downhill from there, Jo leading the way. She told us to “grit stuffed” and started singing the song “I feel gritty, oh so gritty” and when we started groaning told us to “stop gritisizing” her. Then Tom started singing, “Goodness gracious, grit balls of fire.” And that point, Jo informed us that it was time to “grit going” so we could “grit to sleep.”

Yea, grits! Yea, Shari (who sent the grits).

November 16, 2004

Here’s a little something for your reading enjoyment. This actually happened (!) to me (!!) about three or four years ago. I have taken some artistic liberties—the roommate is my Dad, and he wasn’t using a flashlight—he had a small lamp he was using. Everything else is true. Enjoy.

I love Halloween. It is my favorite holiday of the year--better than Christmas, the Fourth of July, and certainly Valentine’s Day. From August on through October I consider my costume. I begin buying bits and pieces early, much as most people do Christmas shopping months before the actual date. This Halloween, however, I approach with some trepidation. It was only one year ago that I had my faith in this, as the ultimate day of days, shaken.

A week before the Halloween in question occurred I asked my roommate what costume he was going to wear. He informed me that he did not enjoy Halloween and was planning on bolting the doors to celebrate the precious evening. Nonsense, I thought, mentally running through a checklist of decoration and candy. I remembered the darkened houses from my trick-or-treating days. My sister and I would always race past them, never able to comprehend why anyone would not enjoy this sacred holiday.

The night before Halloween I prepared my costume, trying it on in pure high school prom sentiment. Everything fit and was sewn together perfectly. I had the extra rubber bands and gel required for my elaborate hairdo. I even had matching shoes.

The day of Halloween I awoke early, even though I had not slept well through my excitement. I prepared my costume, skipping breakfast to finish putting on the necessary touches. Then I was off to work.

I was dismayed, upon reaching work, to realize that no one had dressed up. Never mind! I was the belle of the ball. Everyone admired my costume and lamented their decision to ignore the special day.

My elation lasted until, on my drive home, I realized that I had forgotten to buy Halloween candy. As part of my latest scheme to lose weight, I had decided to wait until the last minute to buy the little sugary confections that children love. Unfortunately, the last minute happened to be the end of the month, when my bank account was completely depleted.
Never mind, I thought to myself, remembering that I had a stash of special German chocolate eggs. Although they were unavailable in the United States, I decided that I could bear to part with them, knowing that they would keep children from the disappointment that would arise upon their reaching a darkened house.

When I entered my house I was surprised to find it completely dark. I was expecting the porch light and living room light to be turned off, but the entire house was black. I became concerned and knocked on my roommate’s door. He answered, so I entered the door, only to see him crouched in a chair reading a book by flashlight.

I left him to his solitude and hurried about, preparing things for the trick-or-treaters. My costume, though magnificent, was uncomfortable, so I changed into an ankle length skirt and an orange and black sweatshirt. I also removed my elaborate hairdo, replacing it with a more conservative ponytail.

The first knock! I rushed to the door and flung it open. It was a mother with her four children, aged five to twelve. I presented the candy, explaining that it was from Germany and that it had a toy inside. The children, apparently uninterested, pushed their bags towards me in impatience. I, although slightly annoyed that they did not understand the magnitude of my gift, remained calm, forcing myself to remember the excitement and impatience that I had felt as a trick-or-treater. I ceremonially dropped one egg into each bag, and the children, with their mother, rushed to the next house. Except one.

“Hey! You from Germany?” He asked.

“No,” I replied and was about to explain the story behind my acquisition of the eggs when he continued.

“I’m from Great Britain.”

Right. “Ah ha.” I replied, unwilling to call him a liar.

“You wanna hook up?”


I cannot adequately describe the look on my face. My eyes widened, my jaw dropped, and I looked down at him. More impossible to describe, however, would be the slow movement of thoughts through my head. I very slowly mentally checked his age, which I placed at about twelve. Although the pause was sufficient for deeper thought and, more importantly, some comment on my part, my brain failed to process the situation quickly enough for me to understand anything more than his age and his impertinence.

“Uh, just kidding,” he mumbled and re-joined his mother.

I shut and locked the door, then looked out the window. When I was sure that he and his family had moved on, I turned out the porch light and the living room light. I flounced up to my roommate’s room and related the recent events to him, ending with the statement, “I am so over Halloween.” I then retired to my room with a book and a flashlight, and spent the remainder of the evening in solitude.

Yes, it is true. I had a twelve-year-old hit on me. It is probably one of the more disturbing experiences in my life. Army? Not even close.

Anyway, does anyone remember the name of the movie—a spoof history movie—that has the line, “Oedipus! Motherfucka!” in it? Damned if I can remember, but for some reason I occasionally think of this line when I am walking the streets of France and it always causes me to smile—which means that anyone who sees me can peg me for the American that I am. (Notes—the profanity was necessary and in deference to my Canadian friends who point out that they are technically Americans too, I suggest we start using the word ‘Merican to describe people from the USA. Thoughts, guys?)

Have I mentioned that one must pay for a library card here in France? I was expressing disgust to some French folks after hearing this, but then they were like, “What the hell are you upset about? Our health care is cheaper than yours.” So I was just like, “okay, you have a point.” Still, I can’t get over the shock of having to pay 30 Euros for a year membership to the Library. Yeah, I know I’m on the French health care system now, but there is something so against my ‘Mericanness about paying for a library card… wow. Yeah, someone may not have health care or electricity, but damnit don’t touch their free library privileges! (By the way, because it is hard to tell on the internet, a lot of that was irony. I’m not going to tell you which parts, however. You have to figure it out on your own.)


More Whitman:
(from Song of Myself)

I think I will do nothing now but listen,
To accrue what I hear into myself—to let sounds contribute toward me.
I hear bravuras of birds, bustle of growing wheat, gossip of flames, clack of sticks cooking my meals;
I hear the sound I love, the sound of the human voice;
I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following;

Sounds of the city, and sounds out of the city—sounds of the day and night;
Talkative young ones to those that like them—the loud laugh of work-people at their meals;
The angry base of disjointed friendship—the faint tones of the sick;
The judge with hands tight to the desk, his pallid lips pronouncing a death-sentence;
The heave’e’yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves—the refrain of the anchor-lifters;
The ring of alarm-bells—the cry of fire—the whirr of swift-streaking engines and hose-carts, with premonitory tinkles, and color’d lights;
The steam-whistle—the solid roll of the train of approaching cars;
The slow-march play’d at the head of the association, marching two and two,
(They go to guard some corpse—the flag-tops are draped with black muslin.)

I hear the violoncello (’tis the young man’s heart’s complaint;)
I hear the key’d cornet—it glides quickly in through my ears;
It shakes mad-sweet pangs through my belly and breast.

I hear the chorus—it is a grand opera;
Ah, this indeed is music! This suits me.
A tenor large and fresh as the creation fills me;
The orbic flex of his mouth is pouring and filling me full.

I hear the train’d soprano—(what work, with hers, is this?)
The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies;
It wrenches such ardors from me, I did not know I possess’d them;
It sails me—I dab with bare feet—they are lick’d by the indolent waves;
I am exposed, cut by bitter and angry hail—I lose my breath,
Steep’d amid honey’d morphine, my windpipe throttled in fakes of death;
At length let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles,
And that we call BEING.

AH! I wish I could write like that! How awesome is that? See, now I am happy again. Not that I was unhappy before, but some Whitman just clinches the deal. That and some good music—Tracy Chapman’s “Give me one Reason.” (Which is just about the only Chapman song that doesn’t make one want to burst into tears.)

Doing laundry now. I wash most of my stuff in the sink then hang it over the radiator to dry. It is either this or truck down to the laundry-mat and pay way too much money for machines that do not work too well. (Damn this MS Word! Who the hell programmed the grammar check—an thirteen year old ESL student from rural Asia?) Anyway, the problem with doing my laundry now is that I do not have any warm water in the evening. I would do it in the morning, but that would mean I have to wake up before 8am—not happening. If the sun is not up, I’m not up. And here in France, the sun comes up around 9am and sets at 5pm. Not that we actually see much of the sun when it is in the sky. One of the French IUFM students today was telling me that she watched a tv show that took place in or around where I come from and that it rains all the time there. I was like, hell no. I think she was getting Washington state and Washington DC confused. (I tell the students that I come from Maryland, which is near Washington DC.)

Oh! And how’s this for the political knowledge of the average French middle school student? After this last US election, the students asked Jo what Bush's re-election meant for Blair’s re-election bid. Now, how many US middle school students know who Blair is? And how many Americans (in general) know when the next British election is? But, on the flip side, I’m glad I’m not a French student—they all have to study philosophy. I hate philosophy. Well, not hate it—I’m just not interested and I consider it irrelevant. I’d be like, screw your Descartes, I’m taking a nap. But then again, I never would have made it that far in French schools; I would have been weeded out by age ten and sent to a trade school. They are harsh on their kids here.


At 10:00 AM, Blogger Captain Disgruntled said...

I *believe* that one of the defining attributes of grits is the fact that to make it, the corn is prepared with LYE.
I even don't like the idea of using soap made out of that.
I was going to post something very rude indeed but I believe I shall instead e-mail you.

At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, grits aren't meant to be eaten alone. (And sending you instant grits would've been an insult to the South.) Think of them like pasta - they are a vehicle to deliver other things, a base, if you will. Hot buttered grits are good. (The ratio of grits to butter needs to be roughly 1:2.) Cheesy grits are also good - just stir in grated cheese just before you serve it. A bit of garlic powder works in that, too. (But don't overdo it - we did that once. Yuck.) Also, make sure you don't forget the salt when you cook them.



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