Saturday, October 28, 2006

The death of Halloween

Halloween is dead and has been for centuries. But even though it's dead, it still holds a certain spine-tingly reminant of what it was before.

I remember as a kid getting all excited about Halloween. We lived on a farm, so my mom had to load us in the stationwagon (no seatbelts then) and drive us around. We sat clutching our big paper grocery bags, our masks slipping off our faces, until we arrived in another farm. Then my sister and I would be let out in front of various houses out in the country. My mom would wait in the car with our baby brother.
We'd trot up to the front door and knock, then hold our bags out and say 'Trick or Treat'! There would be a moment of "Oh How cute! Come here, Harvey, look at the little princess (my sister) and the witch! (me). Then candy or an apple would land in our bag and I'd turn around and my sister would hiss 'Say Thank you!'
That was Halloween. The next day (or even that night) I'd eat all my tootsie rolls and candy bars, and start eyeing my sister's candy. (She saved it until at least Christmas, eating a tiny bite a day...)
And that was Halloween.
Until that fateful day when a rumor swept the land. A razor had been found in an apple. It wasn't even ture - being an urban legend - but it swept across the US like a wildfire and changed Halloween forever.
Before, no one had ever imagined that someone could willfully set out to harm a child with Halloween candy or apples. But now it was the only thing anyone thought about. Now, our mother marched up to the front door with us. She would examine the candy, and any apples inevitably landed in the trash.
Who started that rumor?
I often wondered if it was the Thanksgiving turkey association, fed up with Halloween taking attention away from the upcoming fête. Or maybe it was an apple-hating club, determined to ruin apple farmers everywhere.
Whatever it was or who is was, Halloween was no longer innocent but malevolant. And maybe it became closer to what Halloween was originally about. In the dark ages when the religions were still fledgling and memories of human sacrifice, druids and witches were still fresh, Halloween was a terrifying night when the gates to the spirit world were opened and evil spirits walked. Turnips and gourds were carved into terrible faces to frighten the spirits away, and sometimes candles were set inside to even better effect. The ancestor of the Jack-O-Lantern was a hollowed out turnip meant to keep evil away from the house.

Now that Halloween has become a commercial holiday devoid of any meaning except costumes, candy, and pumpkins, we can take a moment to think back to when Halloween was alive and mankind believed that the dead walked the earth on All Hallow's Eve, intent on stealing souls.

Happy Halloween!!!!!!!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Storms, bells, & more deadlines

Last night the barometer dipped down below 1000, which is pretty low, and the wind sounded like a freight train all night and until this morning. In the north of France, and on the coast, there was a lot of damage but we just got the edges of the storm and only the leaves fell.
(The bells are still ringing. The repair man has not come. The mayor said - helpfully - "Well, you can always sleep with earplugs!")
I replied in a Very strong Texan accent - "How Nice."
Of course, nobody in the mayor's office got that, but Andrea - if you're reading this blog, I hope you swallowed your coffee first.

More about deadlines. I have this annoying habit of saying 'yes' to everything. I now have 4 English students (children) and 1 adult. I swore I'd never teach adults again - they just don't listen. I think after 13 the brain disconnects from the ears and I REALLY admire high school teachers. ANYHOW. I said yes, and now I have another chunk of time gone. Time for preparing the lesson and time giving the lesson that I should be spending writing...LIke time on the blog - lol. And I do have a deadline. SO - NanoWrime to the rescue!!! I will write every spare minute during November and get 50k done. YES.

I went to gym this morning and it was cold in the gym and my back is stiff. I think it's because it was cold while I was working out. I'm off to yoga tonight to try and stretch my back out. Yoga is the BEST for a sore back.

Monday, October 23, 2006

*%!@!# Churchbells!!

The churchbells are broken. In French, we say 'Déglangué' which is slang for broken. You pronounce it 'Day-Glang-Gay' which is a fun word to say, and even sounds like what it is - completely screwed up.
The result is the bells ring all day and night, every hour and half hour. But the clock is off, so that it says 6:00 when it's 8:28 for example, and so you can't tell time by the bells or the clock - but they woke me up all night and I'm wiped out.
Actually, I slept through most of the bells, but at 5 a.m. I heard them and shot out of bed, thinking my alarm hadn't gone off and thinking my son had missed his train and my daughter her bus. So I'm staggering around at 5 a.m. trying not to wake hubby, and I grab my alarm clock to see what's the matter, and I see it's only 5 a.m., and I'm afraid I said a bunch of Very Bad Words - not including déglangué. I tried to go back to sleep, but just knowing the damn bells were going to ring again in half an hour kept me wide awake. Of course now I'm falling asleep on my keyboard and the five pages I promised myself to write are still in my head.
I need more sleep and more coffee!
And then as soon as the town hall opens, I'm storming over there to let off a bit of steam (politely, of course) and threaten dire action if the bells are not put under control. (still in a polite tone of voice - and with a smile - but maybe a hint of hysteria too.) LOL.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Weekend

Today I was up early (churchbells ring every monrning at 8:00, but somehow my brain is afraid of being woken up by the bells, so I'm always awake earlier. It happens when I set me alarm too. If I set it for 7 a.m. I'll wake up at five to seven, and if I set it for six, the same thing happens. I think my brain is scared of being woken up by bells and alaems! Too strange. Anyhow, I woke up and saw that the workers had come to cut the hedge, so I went to talk to them and tell them what I needed done. They have a tractor and trailor, so I won't have a huge pile of brush left over. Then I had to take my son and his friend to the train station. And now I'm getting ready to go to the pony club with my daughter. Maybe I'll bring a book and read while she has her lesson.
Right now, she's stuck in front of 'The Horse Whisperer', and as much as I love Robert Redford, I always thought this story was purely ridiculous. It drives me nuts, but there are some pretty scenes and the music isn't half bad. (and there is But what a stupid story. I hated the book too, as I recall. It was one of my wallbangers.
(list of bestselling wallbangers:)
The Horse Whisperer
The Da Vinci Code
Something Bones (can't even remember the title, but I hated that book)
Do you have a list of bestselling wallbangers??
Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

my rant against Madonna

I just have to rant. Sorry. If you think what she did was wonderful, fine. Because it's true - who wouldn't want to be adopted by Madonna? Heck, I have two boys I'd love for her to adopt and put through college. And they already have their drivers license and most of their vaccinations.
But let's say I'm an African and my wife died and I can't pay to take care of my infant son. I'm human, so I'm frantic with worry. I put my son in an orphanage temporarily. (this is what the father said in an interview with the NY Times, so I'm not making this part up.) Now say a celeberity has decided to adopt a child from my country, and wouldn't you know, she picked my little boy!
I'm thrilled. He'll have everything he wants.
I'm devestated. He's my son, and I'll never see him again. He'll legally belong to someone else.

What is the matter with this picture?
Well, for one thing, I can't imagine the pain the father must have suffered. First losing his wife, then two of his other children, and now losing this child to a media blast.
Is there anything wrong with the way the Africans live? Is their way of life so dreadful that when someone adopts a child and takes him far from his culture and roots it's something to rejoice about? And if so - how come we're all sitting on our butts and not doing anything about it?

OK, we can't all run out and adopt an African. And frankly, I don't think that's the answer. There is nothing wrong with the African way of life if the country is not in the throes of famine or drought or corruption. And we can argue for hours about why Africa is in such a mess, and why we Europeans and Americans are responsible. And why the World Bank is sinking Africa even deeper into debt and misery, and why the huge diamond, uranium, and oil companies are making life hell in Africa (and on the rest of the planet) And you can argue that it's better to grow up in Hollywood than in Malawi. I'd agree. But I've been to Africa, and I've seen children there. I've seen them playing, running, singing, and getting hugs like any other kid. And they herd goats and go to school where they have to sit on the floor, and they have all kinds of strange customs and religions, and beliefs...but that's what makes African children unique.
And I have two boys in Kenya who I put through school. They are in their last year now, and I'm terribly proud of them. Now why didn't I adopt them and bring them to France? I could have tightened my budget, made a few sacrifices, and offered them a life and education in France. After all, education here, including the university, is free. So why didn't I adopt them? Well, what about their country? Doesn't their country deserve to have two such nice, well educated young men? And don't these two young men deserve the chance to help their country by getting a good education and becoming prosperous citizens? In what way has Madonna really helped this child and its family? In what way has she helped the country?
If all you can do to help Africa is take away its children, then you might as well just forget about Africa. Forget that it was the cradle of civilization, that humans evolved from the Rift Valley, and that our genetic Eve was from Africa. Forget the music, the art, and the stories that came from Africa. Forget its ethnies and its myriad different cultures...because they will all turn to Hollywood dust. Forget the beauty of Africa and its diversity. Just take the children away and give them lots of money and everything money can buy. Is that really doing any good at all?
Frankly, it makes me ill.

Sesame Street Quizz!

I'm probably dating myself here, but my sister and I just LOVED sesame street!

You scored 56% Organization, 66% abstract, and 57% extroverted! This test measured 3 variables.

First, this test measured how organized you are. Some muppets like Cookie Monster make big messes, while others like Bert are quite anal about things being clean.

Second, this test measured if you prefer a concrete or an abstract viewpoint. For the purposes of this test, concrete people are considered to gravitate more to mathematical and logical approaches, whereas abstract people are more the dreamers and artistic type.

Third, this test measured if you are more of an introvert or an extrovert. By definition, an introvert concentrates more on herself and an extrovert focuses more on others. In this test an introvert was somebody that either tends to spend more time alone or thinks more about herself.

You are mostly organized, more abstract, and both introverted and extroverted.

Most people either love or hate Elmo. I hope you love Elmo, because that's who you are.

You are both somewhat organized. You have a good idea where you put things and you probably keep your place reasonably clean. You aren't totally obsessed with neatness though. Elmo has the same basic approach. His place is pretty tidy, but he doesn't spend all of his time cleaning it up.

You both are abstract thinkers. You definitely are not afraid to take chances in life. You only live once. You may notice others around you playing it safe, but you are more concerned with not compromising your desires, and getting everything you can out of life. This is a very romantic approach to life, but hopefully you are also grounded enough to get by. Elmo's whole life is based on fantasy and his imagination. In the beginning he was a regular character, but now he spends most of his time in this fantasy world.

You are both somewhat extroverts. Like Elmo, you probably like to have some time to yourself, but you do appreciate spending time with your friends, and you aren't scared of social situations. Elmo spends some of his time with real friends, but he also needs some time just to chat it up with his goldfish.

The other possible characters are
Oscar the Grouch
Big Bird
Cookie Monster
Kermit the Frog
The Count
Guy Smiley

(take the quizz here: )

Monday, October 16, 2006

a horse show in the countryside

Yesterday was my daughter's first horse show. She has been mad about horses since she was a baby. My father used to carry her around the farm, show her the horses, and taught her to whinny before she could talk! My husband used to put her on the saddle with him and gallop around the polo field when she was just a toddler, and she started riding ponies when she was three. At eight I enrolled her in the pony club. Now she's twelve, and she has begged me to let her try competition. We don't have a farm anymore, nor anyplace (or enough money!) to keep a horse. But her pony club has a competition section, which is very inexpensive, and each month they go to a different club and compete. So, I enrolled my daughter and she has been training hard. And yesterday was the first show! It was in a farm that had been built in the middle ages as a fortified manor, so the first thing you see upon arriving is a huge tower and a moat. There is a high coach gate leading to a vast inside courtyard, with climbing roses and red vine on the stone walls. The show was just outside the old manor in a sandy, shady ring. There were a dozen jumps, and about fifty children of all sizes, with fifty ponies and horses of various colors and sizes. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, and they had set up a tent near the moat with a coffee and sandwich stand. The group my daughter was in was a very eclectic one - some children were very good, others toppled off their ponies after one jump. Nobody was hurt, there were a few tears (one little girl rode into the ring, took a look at the crowd, and rode right out again) Everyone was terrific and supportive. Clapping for all contestants was a must. When a child got confused and forgot the course, there were words of encouragement and directions shouted out! The boy who won had a wonderful spotted pony and rode as if he had been a pro all his life! My daughter's pony, a wise, 15 yr old pumpkin orange fellow by the name of 'Gamin' went around in a steady canter, and only refused two jumps at the end when my daughter was too tired to hold him with her legs. She made him get over the two jumps, and he did it delicately, as if sensing her fatigue. At the end she hugged his neck and recieved a warm round of applause. She was thrilled, it was her first show! for pictures go here

Friday, October 13, 2006

Eeek! Spiders and a deadline

I wanted to write more about life in France; I was having this great conversation yesterday while in Paris with two other ex-pat pals (one from Spain and one from the US) - we were complaining about the French (so what else is new, lol) & about how bloody RUDE the servers are, lol, and how much bureaucracy they have. We complained and complained. It felt great. Anyhow, afterwards I had to stop at the US embassy to get a paper signed and notorized and that took ages (security to get in is now tighter than ever, which means prepare to empty your bag, take off your watches and jewelry, and don't ask the nice security guard if you can throw your dirty kleenex into the trash can. He actually jumped. Then I had to go to window 7 and get a folder, proceed to window 3 to pay, (30$ to notorize a signature?!) then go to window 4 and wait until they call your name, then proceed to window 5 to sign the paper and get it stamped.
(I am NOT kidding. I went to four windows to get one paper signed.) So I thought maybe the French weren't actually the worst for bureaucracy - they might now be tied with the US embassy. Although the French still get the worst drivers and rudest waiter prizes.
Then I went home and had to clean out my garage because the roof is coming down - the owner is replacing it. And we (my kids and I) started to clear out the boxes and there are Huge Spiders in my garage. We all sort of stared at the biggest one, sitting on the box we wanted to move, and my son said, 'I will not touch that.' I said, 'It's not so big' (it was about the size of a cat) and my daughter said, 'I'll get the broom, and you can sweep it away, mom'. I agreed, (never show fear to your kids - sort of like wild animal training) and I took the broom and tried to pretend it was one of those plastic tarantulas you see. And it almost worked. I swiped, the spider skittered, and we all ran screaming from the garage. So much for bravery.

And today I looked at my schedule and discovered I have a DEADLINE.
It is now officially LOOMING.
I just hope I have enough coffee in the house.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I am a genius!

Well, not really. And I'm not an electrician. Anyone else would have had electricity. I called my electrician. (this is France, remember, and I am WAY out in the countryside.)
Me: Hi Sophie, I need Laurent to come right away - half my house is in the dark.
Sophie: Bonjour Jennifer - the problem is Laurent is away for the weekend - he went hunting.
Me: That's all right, I'll make do with candles. Will you ask him to stop by on Monday?

On Monday night I get a call from Sophie - she tells me her husband will be in very late, if I don't mind, he could stop by around nine or ten. I tell her I'll be glad to wait. (in the dark - candles burning.)

Then I get inspired. I look at the electric box. The little cartridge thingies that go in the slots. I don't know what they are called, but I have a box of them in different sizes. I start replacing them, one by one. Suddenly there is a 'pop' and the lights in the house go on! I have repaired the electricity using little cartridge thingies. I am a genius. Except I have no idea what I actually did, or what the thingies are called. Feeling half triumphant, half retarded, I call the electrician and tell him not to bother coming - I have fixed my problem. Voila.
The next night I see him and his wife in yoga class, and he told me that what I had was a fuse box and what I'd changed was a fuse.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

the hardware store joke

Lyn Cash has a very funny hardware store joke on her blog. Scroll down a bit to read it. (If you can make it past the picture of the guys washing the car...)

But it reminded me of a real joke the people in my agency played on one of the models. The model was from Germany and very, very uptight. She was always complaining about the French obsession with sex. For her, everyone was obsessed with sex. It made the Swedish girls roll their eyes, and the people at the agency tried to explain that in France things were a little more relaxed, that was all. But she was always complaining. When she went for a job she complained about the changing rooms, and when she was on location, she complained about changing in the street (if you've ever been on location you know what I mean - you usually have to get dressed behind sheets held up by a grinning photographer's assistant, and a scowling stylist.)
Anyway - One day she came in complaining that the toilet in her studio was all stuck and she needed a plunger. Only she didn't know the word for plunger in French. Could someone help her?
The two booking agents who were there that day looked at each other, and then one smiled and said, "Of course. The word is godmichet. You pronounce it 'god-mishay'. Got it?"
The girl then asked where the nearest hardware shop was, and they sent her off with an address.
She went into the shop and asked for a godmichet. The clerk looked blank and shook his head.
"You know," she said, miming plunging a toilet. "A godmichet!" She mimed some more, as the clerk went from pink to scarlet then purple. Finally he gave her the address of another shop, and fuming, she left, thinking that the clerk in the hardware store was a idiot.
She arrived at the address the clerk had given her and frowned. The sign on the door said, 'S*xy Shop!' Frowning even more, she pushed the door open and asked if they had a godmichet there.
The clerk said, "Of Course!" and led her to a glassed counter, where he pointed to a whole range of dildos.
Back at the agency, everyone was howling imagining the girl standing in the sex shop. The girl came back howling - she was furious - which only made everyone laugh harder.
It wasn't easy being a model sometimes.
Once I did a shoot in an outdoor pool (unheated) in April for the July issue of 20 Ans. I was Freezing. The next day I came down with bronchitis and had to work all day with a fever of 101°.

Monday, October 02, 2006

backward or forward?

I don't know if I should start in the beginning or work my way backward from where I am now, about forty miles west of Paris.
It seems I've lived in so many places. I've been in this house since 2000, and that's a record for me. I'm getting antsy.
I guess I'll jump around.
April 1979 - I arrived in Paris in the middle of a huge thunderstorm. We caught a taxi from the airport and there was so much water on the road it flooded and everyone stopped. We had to wait for an hour until the rain stopped, the water subsided, and we could go on. By then it was dark, and my first glimpse of Paris was rain soaked streets, fog shrouded buildings, and the Eiffel tower wrapped in a cloak of thick mist.
The next day I had instructions how to get to the agency and off I went - after a typical French breakfast of strong tea, hot milk, and toast. The taxi driver asked me if it was my first time in France, and I said yes. He said he would give me a kiss for luck, and gave me a peck on both cheeks, French style. "There, now you are French," he proclaimed.
I was both enchanted and mortified. A stranger had kissed me, but I was French!
The enchantment lasted all day. I easily conquered the metro system and learned my first words (left and right) and talked to an old lady at the magazine stand. A book slid off the counter, fell on the sidewalk, and I used my vocabulary - "Tomber!" I cried, pointing at it.
"Well, don't just stand there. Pick it up," she said, in English. She gave me a post card with a picture in black and white of a little boy sitting at a schooldesk, staring hard at the ceiling. "Very famous french photographer," she said.
It was ROBERT DOISNEAU and I've loved his photos ever since.
I also loved the museums in¨Paris, and I think I went to all the shows in the 'Grand' and 'Petit' palace one year. I was at the opening of the new 'Jeu de Paume' and 'Orangerie' museums, and I spent hours wandering through the Louvre (getting lost in there is so much fun!)
My daughter went to the Louvre with her class (so did my sons - lucky French children, they get to go to the Louvre!) They start early, first in the Egyptian section, then going to the Greek part, then going to the paintings where they admire the Mona Lisa as she stares at them with her smug smile (she has the same smile as French waiters, come to think about it...)

I just read that a teacher in Texas was fired without tenure from her post for taking her kids to a museum where they saw *gasp* a naked body. Now, I don't want to sound smug (picture my Mona Lisa smile) but kids in France not only get to see naked people in paintings, but they get to see naked Greek statues and even a statue of a hermaphrodite, which they had to comment on in the paper they were writing on the visit. Most comments were "I didn't know the Greeks had such great mattresses." So you see, the French are not raising a bunch of sex offenders. I might add (again without the smug smile) that statisticlly, we have far fewer teen pregnancies and sex offences than in the puritan US, which might be an argument from taking kids to museums earlier and more often, so they can see what a naked body looks like and get used to it.)

Television shocked me (coming from puritan US) when I saw the naked women advertising shower soap (and whatever else a naked woman could advertise, it sometimes seems they get carried away, like the naked woman advertising a new telephone company...) but they give fair time to men, and there is a wonderful DIM commercial with a hunk in his birthday suit - and of course, my favorite rugby man calendar.