Sunday, January 12, 2014

Six course meals, boxes to Shangahi, Happiness, and roosters.

January 9, 2014
Had a great day.  Taught two classes of English.  Went well, just like the others, and all the other English classes are asking when I will be in their classes.  Makes me smile.  And… everyone I speak with in French tells me how well I speak French.  It’s truly amazing: my French is better than almost everyone’s English.  So awesome. 
At lunch, I ate with five of the students.  And in the afternoon, I sat in on two classes!  Geography and philosophy.  In the first, it was a lecture on the French speaking world, and the professor talked of France’s former colonies.  In the second, it was a lecture on Sophocle’s play, Antigone.  In the first class, I understood 100%.  In the second, about 60%.  And I had such a great time.  So awesome!  Sitting in a class, taking notes in French, listening and asking questions only in French, hearing and interacting with the other students… all in French.  And NOT a ‘french class’.  Just regular high school geography and philosophy classes here in France.  I love it. 

Afterwards, I walked to a restaurant called Paris Istanbul.  You can guess what type of restaurant it is.  Casual, and fun.  I spoke with the owner, who is from Istanbul.  In my broken Turkish.  I ended up speaking to him in just French.  But I’m excited to know there is someone so close to the school who speaks Turkish.  Very cool.  He gave me directions to the night club, Pop Art, which is just a few hundred meters from the restaurant.  I think I’m going to go there tomorrow night.  While there, I ate a hamburger. J
And then, I took the bus home, listening to another French lesson on my iPad. 

The TV works in my room.  I didn’t even realize.  So now it’s on, and I’m listening to a French talk show while typing away.  One of the teachers invited me to an Irish pub tonight, at 10:30.  I might see if Dom or Ver can drive me there.  Apparently there is a very good AC/DC cover band haha.  That will be worth checking out. 
I’m gonna change into casual clothes; unpack the stuff from my two boxes; respond to emails; do some more language study; and I guess consider heading over to this Irish pub later.  Le Quay.  I think that’s the name.  I’ll have to check. 

Overall, I’m assimilating quite well, and having a blast.  And having French conversations non-stop throughout the entire day. 
But still, once school is over, so is ‘the show’.  It’s like performing in a rock show, or in a play.  You feel so much adrenaline while the lights are on, and while the fans are clapping.  But then, suddenly, the show is over, and the lights go out, and the audience leaves, and you’re left alone backstage, feeling somehow lonely and it’s ever so anticlimactic.  That’s how I feel at the end of each day: I don’t want it to end.  But it does, and I get on the bus, and come back home.  Which is why it’s probably a good idea for me to go to this pub tonight.  To get out of the house.  I just wish I had a car, or wish the buses ran at least until midnight.  They stop at 7:30, and I don’t live in the center of town.  In fact, I’m about 6km from the center of town.  Could I walk it?  Yes.  Do I want to?  Not really.  But I might give it a try tonight, just to see how long it really takes.  Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems…

Friday, January 10, 2014
I’m stressed about the damn boxes in Shanghai.  They arrived, and now she’s telling me she doesn’t have any room to store them for me.  She wants me to pay for a self storage locker there.  Wonderful.  On top of that, I totally feel like I did bring too much stuff.  Just like I did when I came to Switzerland for the first time, in 1998.  All these language books which I fear I won’t have time to use.  So much more clothing than I think I need.  And I am going on this Eurail trip in two months, and I have no idea how I’m going to get all this stuff around with me, and sending it will again be expensive.  I’m hoping maybe that by the end of February, I will know at which Wall Street English location I will be teaching—maybe I could send some things there.  I’m also trying to see what things I can maybe throw out here.  Or send back home to NY.  Ugh, this is becoming a huge pain in the butt.  And I guess, c’est la vie. 
I’m just upset about the expense.  I don’t need all this stuff.  It was like a security blanket.  But now one that I don’t need.  I know I will figure this out, but it’s just annoying.  Really really annoying.
Okay, well, one solution: I’m going to read and finish as many of these books as I can from here, so I can send them back home.  And not to China.  That’s a good start I suppose…

Also, I am working with a new client starting this Sunday.  Via Skype.  So I’ll have some more money in the bank starting next week.  That will help defray these additional costs… 
Sunday, January 12, 2014
First Course: Raw almonds, radish, and baby tomatoes
Second Course: Clams, muscles, leek soup
Third Course: Pork, cous cous, roasted carrots, roasted zucchini, roasted sweet potato
Fourth Course: Four different cheeses, and French baguette
Fifth Course: Flan
Sixth Couse: Oriellettes (which I can only describe as delicious fried dough chips)
And then… tea.

Duration of entire meal last night?  6 hours.  Oh mon dieu! J
I’m glad I went, even though I was ready to leave after about two hours.

Truly, my stomach can’t handle so much food!  That was just dinner, at V & D’s friends’ house.  I didn’t tell you about lunch at their parents’ house.  More of the same.  Truth be told, I’ve been eating so much, and am so unaccustomed to eating so much, and so many vegetables, and different types of food, and such huge portions that I suffer from Diarrhea.  Yes, the truth ain’t pretty, I know.  But one cannot run from reality!  Fortunately nothing has been running in my pants.  Phew!

Actually, in my self-esteem course, it talks about how repeating positive affirmations is actually often counterproductive, because it doesn’t embrace the reality of a situation.  It says that one shouldn’t applaud oneself if one doesn’t deserve applause because it tends to worsen one’s self esteem.  A study from 2008 or so confirms this.
I’m really glad I went to that dinner last night for another reason.  The woman of the house had this book.  She got it for Christmas.  As soon as I walked in, I saw it.  A white paperback entitled, “Du Bonheur – Un voyage philosophique” by Frederic Lenoir.  It is translated as “Happiness – a philosophical journey”.  I immediately knew I was going to like it.  I started reading it, and continued to do so on and off throughout my six-hour dinner (haha!  Six hour dinner!) and WOW, it is SO good, and so a propos given all I am studying, and going through, and writing about.  I’m already on page 40.

A few quotations from the book jumped out at me, and made me smile.  The first actually is just the theme itself: that happiness is such an elusive thing to grasp that there are so many books written on it, even here in French, by a French sociologist.  Fascinating. 

Next: “J’ai reconnu le bonheur au bruit qu’il a fait en partant.”  I laughed out loud when I read this.  Because it is how I feel in a nutshell.  It means: “I recognized happiness by the sound it made upon leaving.”  Ha!  By the French writer Jacque Prevert.  That made me smile a lot because it’s exactly how I have felt since losing Louisa.  I didn’t realize how wonderful I had it, and how much in love with her I was… until she was gone.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but happiness had indeed engulfed me, but I was completely oblivious to it.  And now, even though I am in France, living a wonderful dream, and improving my French tenfold every day, and broadening my intellectual, cultural, and gastronomical horizons on a daily basis, something elusive is missing, and it’s love.  The love I once felt for Louisa; the love she once felt for me.  I don’t know if in fact this is truly what is causing my ‘unhappiness’ per se, but it is certainly part of it and in some way connected.  But bottom line, I was so happy to read what Prevert wrote, because it helped me to realize, at the very least, that I’m not the only who feels this way; not the only one who questions some of his life’s decisions on a daily basis.

Next, a quote by Aristotle: “Il est difficile de savoir si le bonheur est une chose qui peut s’apprendre, ou s’il s’acquiert par l’habitude ou quelque autre exercice, ou si enfin il nous echoit en partage par une certain faveur divine ou meme par le hasard.”  (It is difficult to know if happiness is something that one can learn, or if it is acquired by habit or some other exercise, or if maybe it is something bestowed upon us by the favor of God, or even just by chance.--all translated by yours truly without Bing Translator, booyah!)  This struck me first simply because I realized that not only am I not ‘weird’ or ‘damaged’ or a psychological anomaly for feeling this way, but I in fact am in the company of one of the greatest philosophers of all time.  Second, people have been suffering on the quest for happiness FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS!  There is a quotation from Erich Fromm in my self esteem course that relates to this: “The psychic task which a person can and must set for himself is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.”  This blows my mind!  It was such a relief to read this, realizing that maybe it’s OKAY for me to be going through all these emotions on a daily basis.  Every day, I’m totally insecure.  About so many things.  But I drive on nonetheless.  I have never let insecurity keep me from doing what I need to do in the long run.  This quotation just helped me to be a little more at peace with my constant neuroses.

There are so many more wonderful ideas shared in this book.  The woman of the house let me borrow the book, and I’m gonna have it finished by the end of my sojourn here.  My first real book in French, and a non-fiction philosophy/psychology book to boot!  And it’s so fun to read!  I’ll keep you posted on anything more I find intriguing.

As for what I’ve been doing the last few days in a general sense: I continued to teach on Thursday and Friday.  I sat in on a geography class and a philosophy class, and really enjoyed that.  I also found one of the Spanish teachers, and when I told her I speak a little Spanish, she stopped speaking French with me and told me she would—from this moment on—only speak to me in Spanish.  I surprised myself by holding a conversation with her for 20 minutes.  About France.  About why I am here.  About how much more I love the REAL Spanish accent, and how revolting the accent of the vast majority of Spanish speakers back in NY.  She invited me to join her Spanish class.  And so I shall.  Interesting note: the three Spanish teachers here are from Barcelona, Madrid, and El Salvador.  All native speakers.  How cool if back when I was in high school, I had native foreign language teachers.  I wonder if that would make a big difference…

On Friday night I did go out to see that rock band play at the Irish pub.  Was anyone Irish here, I asked?  No, haha!  But the band was surprisingly good.  A (French) American rock anthem / punk cover band.  Super sexy lead singer in plaid mini skirt.  Three guys backing her.  Incredibly tight musicianship.  And a little taste of home.  I met one of the English teachers there from the high school, and he drove me home afterwards.  He is the one who took that photo of me on the bridge—the one on my Facebook page.
Yesterday, was the day of the neverending feasts.  I also met four students (these four girls who are in the beauty and makeup program at the school) in the city and they showed me around.  We ran into one of their parents, and ended up joining them for hot chocolate at one of the cafes.  I love how in France, even though it’s the middle of winter and cold out, there are hundreds of people sitting outside on freezing chairs having a drink.  As were we.  Brrr…  Maeva’s father spoke pretty good English and he enjoyed the opportunity to speak with me.  He is retired from the French army.  Airborne.  Over 500 jumps, and one with… a search and rescue dog.  Oh my.  I asked if the dog was scared.  And it was.  Poor doggie.  But apparently once the chute opened, the dog’s tail began wagging and he began to enjoy the view. 

The girls showed me where the book store was before they left to catch their bus, and I browsed around.  I found the French version of the dummies books, and found a huge one on the history of France (in French), as well as the history of the world.  I also found Assimil language products!  I’m so happy to see them again!  The last time was in Paris in 1998!  I want to buy all of these things, but I’m so worried about weight.  And mailing costs.  I already have so much stuff, and I already have to mail some of this stuff to China, and I just don’t know if I have the money to be able to do so.  My constant question: can I afford to do so, or can I afford NOT to do so?  Where else am I going to find these books?  Amazon?  Maybe, but shipping costs will likely be the same, I imagine.  Is there a French bookstore in Shanghai?  That’s worth investigating…
The rooster crows its cock-a-doodle-do constantly here!  There it goes again.  Funny: the last time I head a rooster crow was also back in 1998… near Paris, when I lived in Boissy-Sous-St-Yyonne. 

I did order one book there: John Grisham’s “The Firm” in French.  For two reasons.  First, I want to read it in French.  It’s a story I know, and so I figure it will be easy for me to follow.  Second, it’s a story I LOVE, and I consider this book the perfect example of a perfect novel, and I want to deconstruct it.  If I can write a novel like the Firm, by adapting its format and style, then I will be able to write a bestseller.  So I’m gonna kill two birds with one stone: improve my French, and improve my story telling.  Parfait!
I also watched, “Jack Reacher”—the Tom Cruise film—in French yesterday morning.  I understood about 60%, and I’m going to try to watch at least one film a week.  Maybe two, if I have time.  The problem is that I am already finding myself starved for time.  It’s been a week and I have done nothing for my PhD; haven’t logged into my psych classes at UofU; haven’t practiced my guitar as I should; and haven’t worked on my novels or screenplays very much in the last week either.  Yes, I should give myself a break since I just got here, but at the same time, I haven’t accomplished what I’ve accomplished so far by giving myself a break.  I need to get off my ass and catch up.  Starting today.  Starting now.  Starting with… stopping my writing in this journal.      

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