Monday, April 26, 2010

Hammam

It wasn’t your typical Thursday afternoon. Well, I guess that depends who you ask so let me rephrase: It wasn’t a typical Thursday afternoon for me. In a dark, hot and steamy room, I sat there relaxing back. I was two undergarments away from being naked, my hair was a mess, my body was saturated with beads of sweat, and I was practically out of breath… but, but, I was at the apogee of relaxation.

“Whew, I need some air!” So I excused myself, sat down in front of the sink and proceeded to splash my face with water in an effort to cool down and catch my breath. But before I could settle too long, it was time for round two. Yes, already.

“Enlevez-ca.” ...Came the blunt instructions from behind me.

“Oh, uh okay…” So I followed orders and timidly removed my top, leaving me exposed in just my bottoms. (Apparently modesty is left at the door.) While I don’t want to reveal too much about my private life because I’m pretty sure that my dad reads my blog (Sorry, Dad!), I’ll just say that before Thursday afternoon, it had been a while since I’d been naked in front of someone, and we’ll leave it at that (but Dad, if you’re reading this, I’ve never been naked in front of anyone!).

“Wow, your boobs are huge!”

“Oh yeah.. Well, what can I say?! I’m blessed in that department.” I replied, blushing.


Okay, fine…. You’re right-- that part didn’t actually happen but it’s my story and a girl with an A Cup can dream, can’t she?!

Anyway, back to the real story:

Before I had a chance to become bashful, I was doused with a heaping bucket of water from the running sink. Then, again with the water, until it had looked like I had stepped out of the bath… because well, I did. My Thursday afternoon was spent at a traditional Turkish Hammam Bath where one frequents to relax and cleanse the body. It starts with a steam room/sauna, proceeds to a bathing room, and usually ends with a massage.

To rewind, I returned from my vacation in Barcelona to immediately embark on a Lyon “staycation” during the second week of Spring Break with my friend Ife and her two friends visiting from London. Hammam “Spa” was just one of the happenings planned on the itinerary. They had all been to a Hammam Bath before. I was the virgin.

While I was expecting the Burke-Williams-Newport-Beach-Spa-Experience, because that’s the only kind of spa I’ve been to, this was far from it. Instead of the tall and tanned OC masseurs giving you instructions for your massage in an overly soothing six inch voice, while leading you to a candle lit room playing soft ukulele music, I was ordered to strip down, and head to the aesthetically deficient steam room by an older woman who resembles your cushioned-body pragmatic grandmother in her mismatched bra and high-rise underwear that appeared as though it had been through sixty or so cycles of laundry. Like I said, modesty was nowhere in sight. And instead of a private low-lit bath with faint smells of lavender and rose oil, I was extinguished with bowls of running water in a large room outlined with sinks, stools and unflattering lighting… unflattering for myself and Grandma Hammam.

I agreed to the Soap-Noir option, the Homage addition, and before I knew it I was stripped down once again and lying flat on a quartz tile ledge as my new Turkish grandmother proceeded to scrub every inch of me with a coarse mitt, removing layers of dead skin that I didn’t realize was possible to house. Are you turned on yet? I thought so. After being instructed to rinse off, I was able to retire back to the sitting area to rest. A half-hour or so later, we leisurely made our way back to the changing area. With lack of time for the massage portion, we got dressed and made our way back downstairs to pay and depart.

Okay, okay.. So maybe I didn't make it sound all that appealing, but it was incredibly calming and we all left there agreeing to frequent a Hammam bath on a monthly basis. Though no spa can take the place of my beloved Burke Williams, my wallet and my baby-soft skin are thankful for Grandma Hammam.


Gratitude:
  • After Hammam, the four of us sat down to a home-cooked (and amazing, I might add) fish dinner with wine.
  • The rest of the staycation was a blast as well, as it included cafe and crepes in Croix Roouse district of Lyon, going out at night, some great laughs and relaxation.
  • London this weekend.
  • My host family is home from their US vacation and I can say honestly that it's really great to have them home!
  • New friends. New starts. New soup recipes (Thanks, Ife.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Confessions


I don’t wash my hair everyday; I’ve re-gifted presents before; I hate hate hate macaroni and cheese; I don’t floss as often as I tell my dentist I do; I have insecurities; I tend to shelf my feelings and I don’t like to admit that I cry. I’m scared of psychosis (mainlycontractingit), commitment, old age, and processed cheese (which brings us back to my macaroni and cheese issue). And lastly, before Tuesday, I wasn’t particularly fanatical about going to Barcelona.

Granted, I was excited to get out of France, visit somewhere new and I had mentioned in passing that I would like to see Barcelona. But aside from Taco Tuesdays, a love for Sangria, and four years of dating my high school sweetheart, I’ve never been especially intrigued in Spanish culture. Call me a snob if you must but I’ve always taken more of a liking to the French, which could be the culprit for my snobbery. But Barcelona, I had you mistaken and I apologize. Turns out, youre an exceptionally gorgeous city filled with exceptionally gorgeous architecture, and exceptionally gorgeous people. It’s true what they say, that you find love when youre not looking for it because well, I fell in love with this city.

About two months ago, when times were bleak, Facebook Status Updates informed me that my friend from the language school here in Lyon was planning a trip to Barcelona. I asked if I could tag along and before I knew it, the trip turned into a group of 6 of us girls, none of us really knowing each other all too well; 2 Brits, 1 German, 1 Pole, 1 Austrian, and yours truly. The perfect setting for reality TV as you would think that cattiness would surface and conflicts would emerge. However, MTV would be sorely disappointed because the 4 days and 4 nights in a 2 bedroom apartment with 6 girls sharing 2 bathrooms, transpired flawlessly. We shared food, clothes, conversation, stories, and laughs.

Barcelona was 4 days of exploring the myriad sites, the cutting edge art, stylish buildings, and yes, even the beach. We saw all of Antoni Gaudi’s famous buildings, from the incomplete cathedral La Sagrada Famillia to the enchanting Park G├╝ell. And while they were breath taking, I couldn’t help but think, Leave it to a man to start something grandiose and leave it unfinished.
Somewhere between the famous La Rambla boulevard, the quaint alleyways, the medieval palaces and plazas, the countless open air markets filled with gluttonous amounts of every fresh food one could imagine, I realized why Vicky and Cristina loved this place so much. What’s not to love when your daily schedule looks something like this:

8:30 am: Wake up
9:30 am: Explore the city
1:00 pm: Lunch
1:30 pm: More exploring
6:00 pm: Siesta
10:00 pm: Shower and get ready
11:30 pm: Find a restaurant
Midnight: Dinner
2:00 am: Dancing
5:00 am: Go home to bed
8:30 am: Start all over again.
Ditto Wednesday. Ditto Thursday. Ditto Friday.



I felt the same way touring around Barcelona as I did walking around Manhattan or stepping foot in Paris: Alive and myself. It was relaxing but energizing, busy but serene, it has character, idiosyncrasies and it offered a sense of harmony, despite my only Spanish vocabulary being (Si, Sangria, Salsa, Hola, and Buenos Noches). Barcelona is to Spain what Paris is to France, what Manhattan is to New York, and what London is to England; but instead of rats, instead of croissants, instead of The Beatles, you come across seagulls, eat Paella, Tapas, and salsa to Ricky Martin. The restaurants resulted in food-orgasms, the dancing was a blast, and the siestas were essential. And when English wouldn’t get me by (which was quite often) French usually could. Of course, there were those moments when everything went completely without comprehension:

Spaniard: Hola {Insert rapid Spanish dialogue}

Me: Uhhh, si?

Spaniard: {Insert more rapid Spanish dialogue}

Me: Knick-knack-patty-whack, give a dog a bone?

Spaniard: {More Spanish, more rolling of "r"s, more lack of understanding}

Me: Sally sells seashells by the seashore?

Spaniard: Salsa?

Me: Si!

So here is my confession: I can admit that I was wrong to base my Spanish intrigue on previous encounters because the truth is, I loved everything about this city. Everything…. Well, except for the 8 hours of driving back to France, but even that turned into an experience. And after 40 hours of no sleep, 5 hours in an airport, an argument with a taxi driver, the copious amounts of highway tolls, a stop in Provence, a stop in Arles, one random French couple, driving off with the gas nozzle still in the tank, getting lost despite having a GPS, and arriving in Lyon by 9 pm, we stayed true to Spanish fashion as the remaining two of us headed out to a late night reward dinner. Thank you, Icelandic Volcano; You provided quite an adventure.


... and since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll let my shoe do the talking of the success that was Barcelona


Gratitude:
  • Though I love my new host family, I must admit that coming home to a quiet house was much needed.
  • Laundry is done and the house has been cleaned inside and out!
  • It's warm here!
  • Fresh banana bread

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Moving Day

Everyone always complains that moving is bitch. The packing, the cleaning, the odd-end items that you aren’t sure which categorized box to pack them in, the unpacking, the cleaning the forgetting of which box you put those damn hair-ties into. Yes, it’s all very daunting and justifies those famous eight words: “This is the last time I’m ever moving.” But here’s the thing about moving, which is really pretty simple: If you hate where you’re living, if you dread going “home” at night, if you’ve become nostalgic for a time when you lived with a borderline college roommate, then moving turns from being a trepidation, into a pleasurable anticipation. The cleaning is just an added bonus for this OCD neat-freak. I love that part, it's true. And you’re right, there weren’t boxes and boxes because yes, I’ve only been in France a little over three months, but what used to fit into a suitcase, a 5,100 cubic-inch capacity backpack, and a cheap duffle bag, were now taking up the aforementioned, plus three oversized department store bags. How did this happen?!

Anyway, moving on… (heh)

I was awake by seven a.m., packed by nine (the day before), car loaded and saying my goodbyes sometime around ten. Never mind that there was really only one person I cared to deliver a sincere farewell to and he stands about three feet tall.

“Tu pars?”
he asked.

“Yes, I’m leaving now,” trying to sound regretful.

“Ou?”

“Not too far from here," I confessed. "You can come visit when you play with Sage. You can come jump on our trampoline. Okay?”

“Aujourd ‘hui?” he smiled hopefully?

“No, not today but maybe after your spring break.”

“D’accord. Tu me manques, Lolo.”

And as I picked him up to hug him, I told him that I would miss him, too. It was true. I would miss mornings with him trying to sneak into my room to catch the last ten minutes of cartoons then begging to do my makeup. I’d miss our afternoon baking sessions and evenings when he would demand I photograph his bubble bath beard. Reading stories with him, teaching him “Shimmy-shimmy-Coco-Puff” jump rope chants, backyard cartwheel contests, foot races, scooter races, and bicycle races. Trips to the library, trips to the museum during his sister’s cello lessons, and secret ice cream trips to McDonalds. Aside from the times when he would team up with his sister, he was my favorite and the only person I was willing to share my Laffy Taffy with. That’s a big deal.

As for the rest of the family, well, I turn to them and in the most rancorous tone I can muster up, say, “You all are the most miserable family I have ever spent time with. You continuously talked down to me, falsely accused me of more things than I can count, left me with no means of transportation or communication when you were on vacation, forced me to find my way “home” my first week here during snow storms, and have made this the happiest day for me in the last three months. Not to mention, you’re daughter is a real piece of work and I hope for the sake of humanity, she either gets herself a good therapist or a good ass-kicking.”


But because I’m not an assertive bitch, it comes out as, “Thank you for everything. I’ll be sticking around Lyon so if you need someone to take Cecile to her cello lessons on Thursdays, I can help. Oh, and could you email me if you receive my mail? Great, take care!”

I then Cindarella’d my way out of that house without a glance back. It’s as if the Universe knew because it was the first day in a week that the rain was gone, the sun was out and my jacket was off. I even rolled down the windows in the car (Yes, I’m trusted to use the car at my new place). And for the first time in three months, I felt truly relieved, smiling ear to ear to the point of school-girl giddiness. As my dad told me, “Consider it your boot-camp. It was shitty, it was painful, and it’s over.”

Gratitude:


  • I spent the day cleaning, unpacking, organizing, and settling in. Then I cleaned the rest of the house. I wasn't lying when I said I enjoy it.

  • A phone that allows me to finally call home!

  • A feeling of being at peace.

  • Barcelona on Tuesday!!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Beginnings

I’m a little fuzzy on the religious meaning of Easter. Plus, with a mom that’s a recent Jewish convert, a dad who still holds some comfort in Catholicism, a brother who’s Agnostic, a grandmother who prays to that we won’t forget her See’s candy, aunts, uncles, and cousins who reside somewhere between Christianity, Catholicism, Baptist, and one that I assume to be Atheist (?), it’s passable to say that we don’t bask in the religious facet of the holiday. Nonetheless, we all agree that Easter includes family, baskets of chocolate with shiny plastic grass, Peeps, the hard-boiling, dying, hiding, and hunting of eggs, Peeps, an Encinitas family brunch, the ending of whatever we unsuccessfully gave up for Lent (which knowing my family, was probably sugar), Peeps, fresh flowers, and new beginnings…And did I mention the Peeps?

Oh, right, new beginnings. Winter is over, Spring is here, new flowers are blossoming, and is it just me or does the air just seem fresher? Out with the old, in with the new, and it’s sufficed to say that I’m not the only one with new beginnings in line. I have a friend moving from Arizona to start a new life, a friend moving to Arizona to start grad school, a friend awaiting the purchase of a new home, a dad with a newly remodeled old home, a friend starting a new job, a friend planning a new vacation, and a grandmother who I assume is sitting with a new box of See’s chocolate on her lap. As Bob Dylan would say, “The times, they are a-changin’.” Yes, Bob, yes they are.

And for me, well, I couldn’t be more pleased and excited about the new beginnings that are literally just around the corner (across the street, down the road, through the gated community, and less than a mile away). By this time next week, I will be writing on this blog from a new location, in a new bedroom, with a new family, as a new Au Pair to three fantastic kids that I fell in love with my first week here in Lyon. They’re American, they’re here for the same reason I am (to experience the French culture), their son has play-dates with my current host-family’s son, which is how I met them, they’re my new family until July, they’re my saving grace from the dark days my current status-quo, and they’re extraordinary.

Though the doors to winter are being shut and the pea-coats and snow boots are being put away, the lessons I’ve learned during those three bleak months have revealed. It’s been a relentless pattern of reflecting, rediscovering, and even regretting at times, but I’ve learned. I’ve learned that putting something off (like quitting) makes something instantly harder and scarier, that wishing things were different is a great way to torment yourself, that there’s splendor in the monotonous 8-to-5 job, because when you quit, you don’t have to still see the employers at the breakfast table. I’ve learned it’s true about little boys being made of snips, snails and puppy-dog tails, but unfortunately there are some girls who are made of sugar, spite, and everything that makes one want to run for the hills. I’ve confirmed the importance of being earnest, honest, and a good B-Complex vitamin. I’ve learned that I’m strong, I can endure, and I have the most incredible support system back home that would make any onlooker green with envy. I’ve learned that doors will close, hopes will fall, relationships will end, but dreams will prevail. Life, well, it rarely turns out the way you plan… I just didn’t realize that it applied to my life.

And lastly (for now), I’ve learned how great friends can take the place when family is absent, that when you’re a tidbit homesick for the familiarity of an Encinitas Easter brunch (and Peeps, of course), a brunch with a new generous host-family and a post-office delivered Easter “basket” from your best friend will certainly make you smile.


Thank you, Courtney, for my amazing care-package Easter basket! (not photographed: Aleve pills)

The kids of my new host-family, on search for Easter eggs!

The backyard view of my new home

He found the golden bunny! The girl was not happy at all!

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Gratitude (this will be easy):
  • Change (yes I know, I really did admit that)
  • Incredible friends
  • Eating Sour Patch Easter Bunnies while wearing new Easter socks and starting a new book
  • An Easter brunch that included roasted chicken, deviled eggs, asparagus, tomato and mozzarella salad, and yes, mimosas :)
  • One week left....

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Not To Be Fooled

Well, I did it. I quit. I resigned. I surrendered. I gave notice and gave up. I threw in the towel. Bowed out and checked out. I terminated my contract, my mental anguish, and accessibility to a year’s supply of Pasta Carbonara. And it only took me 3 weeks of lost luggage, one broken Macbook, a post-office misplaced care package from my mom, a returned care-package from my dad, one broken $200 pair of Versace prescription glasses, a handful of phone calls home, a bout with what I am convinced was frostbite, a flight of “pneumonia,” and the desire for a glass of wine.

The best part: This isn’t a belated April Fool’s joke. It’s true.

After yet another encounter (and the worst to date), with an 8 year-old’s tantrum (videos to come) for reasons still unknown except that she hates the world (and me), I confirmed that life is too short, my time is too precious, and well, my metabolism isn’t getting any faster. Plus, this is ___(fill in censored word of your choice)__ nuts! So, after dinner (if you’re guessing what the meal is, you’re probably guessing correctly), I approached the Madame and Monsieur of the household, attempting my best at appearing cool, calm, and collected, all while apprehension, agitation and anxiety flooded my veins. Did I mention that I hate confrontation? Well, I do.

I used the best of my communication conflict skills. I stayed focus, I used my “I” statements (or my “Je” statements), I spoke truthfully and assertively, explained that I’ve tried, struggled, and pleaded with their little princess, all without prevail. Oh, and I did this all in French, thank-you-very-much! And then, without reciprocation, I listened to their criticisms with concern, I responded with as much compassion as my inegrity would allow, and tried my hardest to see their point of view. I even offered to continue the contract until they found a replacement.

And how did it go? Well, Internet, I could say it was swell; that they reasoned with my pleas, consoled my distress, and empathized with my discontent. But if I did, therein would lie your April Fool’s joke. Instead, it turned into a one-sided version of the blame game of my “incessant faults” and the reasons I caused this. That I need to have more respect for a girl who screams, yells, hits, and hates me. But, how?! Then, when pinching myself and blinking would no longer hold back tears, I hurried for a conclusion and politely excused myself from the implacable linguistic wilderness.

So, there it is. I guess it’s sufficed to say that I feel defeated, angry, resentful, and well, I feel hurt. Yeah, that’s about right. I know, I know, "sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you"… except that they do. They do for me, at least. However, I can see the light at the end of this tunnel, and a wise woman mentioned to me, "this Au Pair job may have been my ticket here, but it doesn’t have to be my destination." I’m ready to set out for the destination.

Gratitude:

  • My family (and friends) have the uncanny ability to make me feel better.
  • It's been a really great weekend: Last night was girls night, tonight is dinner out in Lyon, and tomorrow is Easter brunch 
  • Next week is my last week with this host-family.
  • It was just my Aunt's birthday: HAPPY BIRTHDAY AUNT SUSAN!!!