Thursday, September 30, 2010

Adam and Eve

The kids are now into their fourth week of school and I couldn't be happier. They are exceptional kids, I promise! But have you tried entertaining a 6 and 7 year old for thirteen hours a day, all while trying to keep their older sister from provoking arguments?! Let's just say that we've taken a lot of walks around the city and I've taken a lot of deep breaths. In any event, we know the Centre Commercial aka The Mall very well.

The kids, well, they aren't the only ones who had la rentrée. Yes, I've also headed back to school, which more simply means, I'm back in my visa-required, twelve hours of French courses each week. Which can then be simplified further as two weeks of my salary because not only is French a bitch to master, it's also incredibly expensive. But it's okay because it's an investment, right?! An investment in my future; my future which will most likely continue in California, where everyone speaks Spanish. C'est pas grave! That's beside the point because the point is, I can now tell someone off in French without pulling out my dictionary and have them walk off. Plus, learning prevents dementia, which has helped me to remember the endless French verb conjugations, but more importantly, prevents me from forgetting the children every day at 4:30 pm.

Since French children don't have school on Wednesdays, the Au Pair also doesn't have school on Wednesdays. I'll tone it down by saying that I used to loathe Wednesdays--the activities, the stress, the carpooling. But now, it ain't so bad, and I’ll venture to say it can be enjoyable to spend the day relaxing with the two young French kids. The problem though is I miss my French class and have to play catch up. I hate this. But what I learned on this particular Wednesday was worth so much more than I could ever pay for in a classroom.

Cue 6 year-old Petite Rose:

Our mornings have become quite routine. I love them. Her and I are the early birds of the household and so, we rendez-vous at the kitchen table for our petit-dejeuner. I have yogurt. She has Honey Nut Cheerios—so very French.

"Lolo, est-ce que tu connais l'histoire d'Adam et Eve?"

I set down my tea. "L'histoire de what?!" Already knowing that her version would be so much better, I replied, "No, Rose. Tell me the story of Adam and Eve."

"Well first, God created 'la terre' and then, he created un homme et une femme. Il s'appelle Adam et elle s'appelle Eve," she continued. "Et apres, God created an apple tree, but he told Adam et Eve that it was 'interdit' to eat 'les fruits'. But then Eve, she ate the fruit because she was distrait--"

"Wait a second," interrupting to make sure I heard correctly, "She ate the fruit because she was distrait? No snake or anything?"

"Non. She was just distrait. And then, Lolo, then they had lots of babies who grew up and had their own babies and that's how the world was populated.... But I don't really believe that. Do you?"

So there you have it; Eve was absent-minded-- Absent minded. So she ate the fruit and populated the World.

The end.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Joyeux Anniversaire a Moi

Disclaimer: Dad, you may want to bypass this one. Disclaimer: Dad, you may want to bypass this one.

Some people have cake. Some people do parties, celebrations, take vacations, open presents-- you know, The Works-- and I am usually one of them. Last year, there was my Red and White (Wine) Theme Party. The year before that, there was the L-Theme Party. The Rock Star Theme Party, the 80's Theme Party, the New Orleans Theme Party, and who could forget the Super Sweet 16+7 Party for my 23rd?! Not to mention, the dinners at nice restaurants, the family parties and celebrations that took place. But let me tell you this: You have not lived a real birthday, you have not experienced it to the fullest, you have not become cultured until you've spent it at the French gynecologist's office getting your yearly woman’s exam (aka The Dreaded Pap Smear) as I did. It's true. Yes, I know, I'm an adventurer.

It wasn't my intention, nor was it on my Bucket List to spend a birthday being poked and prodded by a sixty year-old French doctor; but when you're an Au Pair with little availability, and Madame Gynecologue says there's an opening September 20th at 3:00 pm, (which will give you just enough time to get in, get out and pick up the girls from school by 4:30) you say, "Oui, merci" and add it to your planner.

So how'd it go you ask? With a grain of salt and mild chagrin, I confess that it was…it was… well, it was definitely something. You see, I'm used to the routine and privacy (or as much privacy as one can have during this type of exam) of the American doctors, where you're given a moment alone to undress, slip on the complimentary (albeit paper) robe and drape the neatly pliéd sheet over your lap as you perch yourself on the exam table to catch up on some light reading. After a tap-tap on the door, "Are you ready?" the doctor comes in, dims the lights and voila…does the exam. I wouldn't go so far to call it an enjoyable affair but it's not dreadful.

Fast forward to September 20th, 2010, 3:26 pm Western European Time, and you'll find me pillared nervously in the French exam room because yes, I've been warned these sort of things in France are different. For starters, the place looks like it could be someone's home office--desk, sofa, pictures of family, etc, but with a bunch of French sex and birth control brochures spread about the bookshelves. Just off to the side of the office is small exam room, barely big enough to fit the exam table and a four foot long counter. After reviewing my medical history en Francais, I stand, waiting for the doctor to politely leave me in peace so I can undress. But as I look around, I see that something's missing. Where is my paper robe and where is my sheet?! I ask in my most articulate French, but I'm received with a blank stare. Thinking that maybe it's the language barrier, I do the hand motions for putting on a robe. Still, nothing. Disregarding my agitation, she instructs me to undress and lie on the table. Lights stayed on; I'm completely exposed and suffice it to say, vulnerable. And maybe it was just me, but I swear there was a draft in the room. The exam and I had to be asked continuously to stop scooting away. By four o'clock, I walked out of the office with my 50 euro receipt and medical certificate (which I need for an upcoming race), swearing that the next time I need a pap, I'll book a flight home, first. But on a positive note, here's to being 26 and disease-free!

The rest of my birthday was a flawless success, as my very French boyfriend surprised me with a night aboard une Peniche (a French houseboat) with its very own indoor pool and spa. There was We sat down to the most delicious (butter-infused, I'm sure) Fruits de Mer (seafood) dinner accompanied by a bottle of Rose wine and spent the evening poolside with champagne (because yes, on the inside of our houseboat was our own swimming pool and spa). I did miss my friends in California; I did miss my family; and there was a part of me that longed for some Peanut Butter Golden Spoon, but, but turning 26 and celebrating my birthday in France (and seaside for that matter) was pretty unforgettable. When it came time to blow out my birthday candles and cut the cake, I got out of the pool and there waiting for me on the wall hook, was my very own robe. They do exist in France.

So here's to another year with new endeavors, new experiences, open doors and opportunities ahead; here's a wish for a little more insight, a little more courage, a bit of bliss and lasting strength. Here goes nothin'

  • For my birthday, my mom bought me a massage and a local spa, which was nothing short of wonderful--although again, there were no sheets.
  • My birthday horoscope had good things to say. I feel motivated for the year ahead.
  • My host family threw a birthday dinner for me last night which was followed by raspberry birthday cake and yes, more champagne.
  • This guy reviewed my blog... it's always nice to get feedback.
  • The birthday messages from my family and friends made my week :)
  • Dinner party this weekend :)

Friday, September 10, 2010


I believe in now or never; plain and simple; What's done is done. I believe in walking the walk if you're going to talk the talk. I believe that money can't buy happiness (unless of course happiness you’re in the Nine West shoe section of Macy's). I believe there's always a silver lining; that there's light at the end of the tunnel and well, I believe home is truly where the heart is.

My name is Lauren, and I hold a penchant for clichés. Scoff if you must, but it's true because well, I’m banking on the cliché that promises, “Third time’s a charm.”

Let's cut to the chase:

First, there was the time I spent as an Au Pair with the ever-so-delightful French family that lived just outside of Lyon, and well, we all know how well that went. But no, I'm definitely not bitter that I spent January through April, forty-five minutes outside of the city with lack of transportation and nothing to do but watch the snow fall. Right?! No, I'm absolutely not bitter because I believe that what goes around, comes around.

Then there was the “transitional” period with an American family who was kind enough to take me into their home. It was a vast improvement, yes, until I eventually became exhausted, drained and penniless (and I swear at one point my hair started falling out); but I'm not bitter about that either because yes, time heals all.

I left them in July for what we'll go ahead and classify as Stress Leave (or more simply, a vacation to London, Croatia, Paris and Provence) to rejuvenate my mental health. And it worked—I swear I'm better now! I spent time unapologetically unwinding, un-aging and even undressing on the beaches of Croatia. During that month, I had plenty of time to reflect and concluded that I'm not quite ready to call it quits and end my time in France. Blame it on the heat, or maybe even dehydration, but the truth is this: I signed up for France for a year-long adventure. I came for an experience and I just don't feel I've gotten what I came here to find. No, I'm not exactly sure what I'm looking for but I do know that I just want to look some more.

And that brings us to what we'll now label, "The Third Time" as once again, I signed up as an Au Pair with a French family here in Lyon. Here's The Charm: my first week of work started as a seven day vacation with them in L'Estartit Spain.

Single dad. Three daughters (ages 12, 7 and 6). Apartment flat in Lyon Centre (No, but seriously, it's as Center-of-the-City as you can get). They're definitely not your picture-perfect family; they're not keeping up with the Jones; and they're a bit dysfunctional, but maybe that's why we mesh so well together. They're quite lovely and so I'm keeping a glimmer of hope, my fingers crossed and possibly even wishing on a star that this one's the ticket.

Here goes nothin…

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love..and then some

“Do you think colored toilet paper will color your ass?”

Internet, meet Rachel. College educated (yes, I promise), 5ft (5’1 on her better days) and full of spunk and sass. She frequents good restaurants, is soon to be married (to a chef) and can be found spending her Sunday mornings in a sweaty, overcrowded dance class, strutting and pirouetting to every Britney and Lady Gaga infused jazz routine.

The thing is this: I’m not sure if Rachel actually chose to be my friend. From what I can gather, once upon a February ago in that sweaty, overcrowded dance class, our dance teacher expressed his worry about my health and asked her to take charge. She’s like that. She takes charge of situations; creates a strategy; and then invites you to her place to dine with her and her boyfriend over Curry vegetables and brown rice.

She’s frank; she’s authentic and what started out as an altruistic invitation, expanded into what is now a balanced and genuine friendship. I convinced her to give up her Saturday mornings for Company dance rehearsals and in return, she convinced me to give complex carbs a second chance. She stays true to her word, so I knew that when she promised to visit me in France, that I would be seeing her sometime between January 2010 and 2011. She finalized her LAX to Paris airline ticket and took off the end of July.

Dear Ms. Elizabeth Gilbert, I realize that your traveling was about eating, praying and loving. While that is all good and well, and I really loved your memoirs, our ten day adventure was slightly different. We ate baguettes and goat cheese on the go. We prayed that we wouldn’t contract Typhoid, Hepatitis, or worse, Stupidity, from the seemingly contaminated home of our Couch-Surfing host in Provence and lastly, we loved the fact that whenever a French local provided us with directions, the place we were looking for was always the opposite way of what they said. But just like you Ms. Gilbert, we learned, we were mindful, we repacked our backpacks more times than I can count and yes, above everything, we did love the journey.

There are two types of love. (Okay yes, being the commitment phobic, a-bit-too-cynical-when-it-comes-to-relationships type self that I am, I may not make the most qualified to speak on this particular subject, but what the hell, therapy over the years has taught me a thing or two). The first type of love is patient; it’s honest and it’s attentive. It takes its time, stresses the importance of communication and it’s a pattern of devotion. This is the type of love that good relationships and marriages are founded on. You risk everything you’ve got; you give it your all; open up your heart and cross your fingers that you’ll live happily ever after.
Paris isn’t like that. It’s the other type. It’s dirty, it’s blunt, and before you know it, you’ve been harassed, belittled and left with a drained bank account all while wanting more. Paris is sexy, it’s rushed, it’s lustful and it’s the only reason I believe in love at first sight. It never agreed to reciprocate feelings, but you keep coming back and you keep loving it anyway. Rachel, like me circa 2006, also fell hard for Paris.
We didn’t spend time appreciating the art in the Louvre. No, we didn’t wait in line to admire the views from atop of the Eiffel Tower and we didn’t marvel at the gardens of Versaille. However, we did France the Locals’ Way: We had our patisserie and café (avec juste un petit peu du lait, s’il vous plait!) every morning. We packed a lunch and spent the afternoon sitting on the dirty cement next to the Eiffel Tower discussing current and past relationships. And being the good Jew that Rachel is, we spent an obscene amount of time in Le Marais quarter (which is my favorite, favorite, favorite quarter of Paris. Did I mention it’s my favorite?) getting lost in conversation about life over a plate of hummus and pita bread with an overflowing glass of Bordeaux. We mastered the metros, argued with French Police and when it was all said and done, we packed our jazz shoes and spent the afternoon heat taking a dance class.

As the cliché goes, “Quit while you’re ahead.” So after four short days in Paris that could’ve easily been ten, we packed our bags into the trunk of our rented Peugot and impulsively set out for the South of France.

“Avignon. Ever been?” Rachel asked as we approached the turnoff sign.
“Nope,” I replied. “The only thing I know about Avignon is the French children’s song. Do you know it?” I asked, as I attempted to sing it.
“Sure don’t. But let’s stop anyway.”

Avignon, I’m convinced, is the Fairly Tale Funhouse of France. Think New York City Broadway, the performers of Hollywood Boulevard and France’s Belle of the Ball have a love affair together that produces a baby which is this city. A bit ostentatious, a bit jazzy with spectacles and people swarming at every step, and all banded by four kilometers of preserved stone walls. There’s nothing to do but sit down with your French baguette and goat cheese lunch and observe the madness.
The next few days were a winged, whimsical and whirlwind tour of the Provence region, from St. Remy and Les Baux de Provence to Aix, Fos sur Mer and Marseille. It was the most delectable blend of French countryside and French cliffs; fields of sunflowers, rows of fresh lavender, endless lines of olives trees and enough wine vineyards to inebriate all of France while they lay on the beaches of Marseille. If that’s not enough to woo you, every single backdrop involved a chateau and every single village housed a kickass chocolate shop. Welcome to Provence. When it was all over, when we felt like we needed a vacation and detox from our present vacation and sugar high, we set out for the final leg of the journey.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Let me start by admitting that there’s a whole lot of stuff about France that I don’t know—Enough to fill all of the Boulangeries of this country. I don’t know how to speak French fluently, how to use those simple-looking-but-not-so-simple-when you-try-to use-them French Presses and I still don’t understand how Steak Tartar (a fancy word for completely raw hamburger meat) is safe to eat. I don’t know how to correctly pronounce the word squirrel in French and for that matter, how to correctly pronounce most of the vocabulary. I don’t know how the Patisseries make their Flan Nature so much better than mine (although I have a feeling that it involves full fat milk and extra egg yolks) or why all French Administration find gratification in being miserable to the world. And in full disclosure, I barely even know where the keys are on this French keyboard, which reminds me that I really really don’t know why my Macbook continues to break only in this country.

But there is something that I do know: Thanks to our road trip through France, I have discovered the most beautiful, the most stunningly gorgeous, the most fill-in-your-adjective-of-choice place in France that I plan to use from here on out for every mindful and guided imagery exercise. It’s a local secret; a place not yet swarming with tourists. It’s a place that only a literary genius (which coincidently, I also don’t know) could detail accurately with words. However, thanks to a nifty portable invention, I can present you with these:

And well Ms. Gilbert, that’s my version of a three part vacation—Some love, some chaos, some pure beauty and relaxation. We did what you said and asked locals for the best pizza in town and I think we found it in Aix en Provence. We followed your lead and treated ourselves to gelato. We even did some Yoga on the lake of St. Croix. But Ms. Gilbert, I think I had an advantage because I got to experience all of that with one of my best friends and when I forget a detail, she’s there to remind me. We talked, we exchanged stories and we analyzed every aspect of our past while dreaming the future. We got lost—in conversation, in the streets of Paris, lost on the highways of Marseille but we never lost our patience.

With the vacation drawing to a close, it was time to say an Au Revoir to the most beautiful place in France. But, just when we thought we had seen it all, we woke up from a morning nap in our Peugot (looking sleep deprived, in desperate need of a shower and hair that hadn’t been washed in three days) to a note on the windshield that read:

Bonjour Sleeping Beauties—If you’d like a café or a drink later, call me.

We wiped our smeared mascara, looked around and were a bit flattered until we anxiously realized upon departure, wait, what kind of weirdo watches people while they sleep?! Add that to my list of things I don’t know about France. Time to go.