Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Letter to the 700 Club

Here's my secret: I am an absolute sucker for televangelism...I can't watch enough of it. Imagine my joy when I found out that Pat Robertson and the 700 club would be addressing the topic of "Islam in Paris" this morning. You can read about this broadcast Here.

As I listened with as open of a mind as I could, Rev. Robertson raised several interesting questions, one of which - due to my personal experience as a Christian studying Islam in Paris - I felt compelled to answer to the best of my ability. I located the "Send Feedback" to the 700 Club portion of his website and submitted the following letter. I'm not sure how many responses they have to sift through, so, after e-mailing the 700 club, I decided to share with you - my loyal readers - my response to Rev. Robertson's queries. [Apologies for those who come here for the funny]

Here is the letter:

Rev. Robertson,

My name is Thomas Carrico and I am a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. Having spent the past year earning my MA in Middle East and Islamic Studies at the American University of Paris in Paris, France, I was excited to see that you would be addressing the theme of “Islam in Paris” on today’s episode of “The 700 Club.” After viewing the YouTube video of Muslims praying in the streets, seeming to disrupt both pedestrian and automotive traffic, you and your co-host raised the valid question of what would happen if this were a gathering of Christians in Paris. While you hypothesized that such a gathering would be unwelcome, discouraged, or banned, my time in Paris has led me to believe otherwise.
On June 5th of this year, I was at my computer doing research with the windows open when my wife and I heard loud shouting and music coming from the nearby Place D’italie. After some googling, my wife realized that this was a demonstration called “La Marche Pour Jesus” (The March for Jesus). We – like you – did not think such a demonstration would be welcome, encouraged, or allowed in this city whose leaders continually emphasized its secular nature. We decided to see for ourselves what was going on and made our way towards the place. Standing on Rue Tolbiac, we could not believe what we were seeing.

We stood in awe as we watched dozens of trucks – all carrying praise bands singing in different languages – follow their police escort by. We watched as tens of thousands of Christians danced and sang for hours as they praised Christ in the streets of Paris as the flags of many different countries flew overhead. It was the largest, most multicultural gathering of Christians I have ever been a part of, including all experiences in my undergraduate camps and conferences as well as my three years of seminary. The march takes its theme: “Stand up and walk” from Jesus’ miracle in John 5 and the event– regardless of the particular theologies of the myriad churches represented – is a miracle in and of itself. In keeping with the theme of YouTube videos, I found this video of the march (there are many, many others) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NW9poMj4jo&feature=related and you will be able to learn more about this annual celebration of the Risen Christ at the organizations website (http://www.mpjf.org/z_4647/index.asp?page=1 ).

I have had several friends and professors educated at Regent University and have profound respect for your various ministries and your work in the world for the kingdom of God. As one of the most prominent Christian voices in our society today, I am positive that you will appreciate and make use of this account of religion in Paris as you consider the various nuances within a society and its people attempting to grapple with the complex question of national identity both at home and abroad.

Thank you very much for your time,
Thomas J Carrico, Jr. M.Div, MA.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Good Morning!

This morning, at approximately 3:45 AM I began to stir due to an odd sensation on my left shin. I first believed this sensation to have been caused by our rotating fan pointing a breeze towards the lush forest of leg hair which adorns my left shin (a bountiful harvest of leg hair covers my right shin as well though it does not play a part in this story). When this incessant tickling continued after the fan had made its pass over our bed, I assumed that, perhaps, the sheet was the culprit, which led me to make the executive decision to continue my slumber atop my covers. I promptly fell back asleep: problem solved…for ten minutes. At roughly 5 til Four, the tickling resumed and I reached down to scratch the affected area of my shin only to realize that it was neither the fan, nor the sheets, nor my masculine leg hairs but rather some type of insect. I ever so calmly leapt from the bed and squealed nearly sending Abbey into cardiac arrest. I still had not seen the culprit, but I believed it to be one of the long-legged easy-to-kill, slow, dumb, aggravating spiders – a species of which I have been responsible for the murder of about 25. I went into the bathroom, turned on the light, grabbed my weapon of choice (toilet paper) and re-entered the bedroom to see Abbey standing in the corner wondering what in the hell I was doing.

Utilizing the light now emanating from the bathroom, I slowly straightened out the sheets in order to locate the soon to be spider carcass. As I pulled back the last corner of the beautiful quilt that Centieme had made us a few years ago the light reflected off of the back of a large, grotesque, demon roach. Ignoring my inner monologue of “EW GROSS THERE WAS A ROACH ON YOUR LEG WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING WASH YOUR LEG NOW EW EW EW,” I dove at the beelzebubian beetle with the wad of toilet paper. I dove. It dodged. I slapped. It moved. I slapped again. It FLEW. I forgot those things could fly. I leapt back to figure out where it landed while Abbey remained in the corner. The spawn of satan was perched on the side of our vacuum cleaner. I knew that, like someone who enjoys keeping their home tidy, I had removed my shoes downstairs and there were several boxes between my other shoes and I and I may lose the enemy in my quest for a stronger weapon. Knowing shoes wouldn’t be able to be used as a weapon at this point in the war, I did the only thing I could think of – a stumbling roundhouse kick to the vacuum. The bug was again in flight, this time landing on my leg, mocking and infuriating me.

It was then that I remembered the sage advice of our new neighbor, upon seeing ants in our apartment on move in day he dove to the ground and punched each and every one of them. He then stood up and proclaimed that the only way to ensure that the bugs would learn a lesson immediately prior to meeting their maker was to punch them. I kicked the bug off my leg and dove to the floor and began punching at this evasive beast as he darted from one end of the room to the other. I landed a good 6-7 punches straight into the ground before the roach found himself on the tiled floor of our kitchen, at which point I leapt to my feet, sprinted downstairs, and grabbed my shoe. Upon returning to the kitchen the beast had vanished – likely under a counter (or perhaps he took his talents to south beach). I used a flashlight to look under the counters and was unable to locate the enemy. The gloves were off – if he was going to hide like a sneaky little beast waiting for me to go back to sleep just so it could once again experience the joy of navigating my leg, then I was going to engage in chemical warfare. After spraying the perimeter of our kitchen with roach spray I knew it would be unable to escape. Abbey was still in the corner of the bedroom.

I came back in the bedroom and admitted temporary defeat. It was approximately 4:30. Abbey then pointed at the wall and said “I see it!” I looked up to see a much smaller member of the devil’s minions and, in one of my more boneheaded moments, I said “that’s not the one I was chasing.” Now here’s a fun marriage lesson – if your wife is petrified of bugs and you are chasing a bug around in the middle of the night until you ineptly lose it and then your wife points out what you know to be a different bug you just kill it/remove it from your household. You do not tell her “no, there are several currently running around, the one which climbed into our bed being one of them” unless you really hate sleeping. I grabbed my shoe and killed the little one and, on my way to the bathroom, considered going lord of the flies with this roach and a toothpick in the middle of the kitchen to teach all of the other ones a lesson. I thought better of it, flushed the beast, and spent the next several hours waking up every time the covers moved. The battle has been won by the enemy, though I fear the war is far from over.

Also – DJ Pauly D was on the radio yesterday and I taught Abbey how to fist pump.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Take THAT Amurrica

It has been nineteen days since the Carrico, Jrs' joyous reentry into the US of A. My first order of business was to don my Atlanta Falcons baseball cap (the nation of France has not come to the realization that baseball hats without a yankee's logo do, in fact, exist) and attend the Sedalia Blues Festival where I was in Americana overload. There was the purple leopard print mumu, cowboy hats in abundance, cups of soda that are larger than some european motor vehicles, flames on cars, and bumper stickers that confirmed my suspicion that patriotism and xenophobia have continued to inch closer together during my year abroad. I have reveled in my newfound ability to converse with strangers sans the aid of grunting and pointing. I have eaten at Moe’s. I went to target. I rode in an elevator that both Abbey and I were able to fit in comfortably. Air conditioning. I ordered and consumed ”Freedom Fries.” I ate a deerburger. I had a religious experience walking back into the weightroom. I sat around a campfire outside of a trailer in a field with some friends and a cooler full of busch light. “The Situation” is my favorite Jersey Shore character. I went to a wine festival in the middle of a monsoon. My time in the states, suffice to say, has been fantastic, despite a painful, persisting, purse-shaped void.

I was in a man named Bob’s office recently discussing my credit rating and the possibility of purchasing a motor vehicle. He was rambling on about something and Abbey was taking copious notes but I found myself unable to concentrate through the pain emanating from my right buttocks and ascending my spine. The pain became unbearable as I stood up, removed my wallet from my back pocket before slamming it on Bob’s desk and proclaiming “I want my purse back.” Bob was confused. Abbey emitted a wholehearted, emphatic laugh with a somewhat mocking tone while Bob nervously chuckled and wondered what in God’s plush earth I was talking about. I had been trying to get re-acclimated to post-purse life now for some time, but I had had enough. (I had also had problems with subject-verb agreement and the verb had, so I had had to adjust to using had properly as well...moving on)

I like to think of myself as someone who prefers to take in many points of view on issues, attempting to give equal representation to all available sides of an argument while forming my own points of view rather than bringing an immovable set of positions into an argument. This is what led me to embrace my identity as a purse carrier in the first place - giving this French cultural norm a chance. In America, though, 'male' and 'purse-carrier' tend to be thought of as mutually exclusive identities - you simply can not be both. In order to give this cultural norm its due, I returned to my American way of carrying things upon setting foot in my homeland, placing keys and a ball point pen in my right front pocket, cell phone in the front left and my wallet in my back right pocket (hence the aforementioned right buttock pain). After two weeks of removing everything from my pockets every time I wanted to sit down without being stabbed by keys or having my buttocks numbed by my wallet I joyfully returned to my purse-carrying ways a few days ago following my emotional episode in the office of Bob. The road of a male purse-carrier may not be easy - even a good friend (who to his credit is quite open minded) stated “I just can’t get used to the purse thing.” However, with all due apologies to those whose worldview I offend and with profound respect to the same group, the purse is back and is here to stay. Don’t knock it until you try it.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 12, 2010

That's What I Get

I am now back in the USA after travelling by plane from Nice to London to Dulles and by car from Dulles to Lynchburg. I mean this with all due respect to British engineers, architects, and others involved with the planning, creation, and everyday functioning of airports: Heathrow Airport is a labyrinth of asininity. Abbey and I naively assumed that an hour and a half between flights would provide ample time to arrive at our gate and enjoy a less-than-hearty meal while awaiting boarding. Incorrect.

After exiting our plane we were instructed to “queue this way” by a lady with an absolutely hilarious accent dressed as a 1950s stewardess complete with a silly hat. Once we figured out that queue was British for “wait in this really long line for no reason” we made our way to the end of a really long line which we waited in for no particular reason. This was the line to enter our gate. After this line we were directed to queue another way and waited in another long line to have our passports perused. This perusal was followed by a gruff nod and we were told to ascend the escalator to…queue another way. This was the British security line. I passed through the metal detector as a group of Brits quizzically pointed and whispered at the x-ray machine as my baggage went through. I calmly waited knowing that any movement or look of worry on my part would give the impression that I had less than amicable intentions in this airport. My bags exited the machine and began rolling towards me on the conveyor belt. I reached to grab my bag but was beaten to it by a large mechanical arm which relocated my bag to a different conveyor belt where the formerly concerned looking group of British folk informed me that my bag had been randomly chosen for search. Yippee.

A word about our luggage.

Over 10 months of academic writing and research abroad (as well as several consumerist excursions) Abbey and I accumulated roughly a whole lot of stuff. I had meticulously packed each suitcase full (our checked bags were each barely shy of the maximum limit – one weighed 31.9 kilograms and the other 21 kilogramsish – for those curious about the conversion to pounds, please write your local elected representative and inquire as to why the US is the only country in the world not on the damn metric system). I digress. The weight limit of our carry-on baggage was limited only by my sheer brawn so it was HEAVY…to me. Regardless, every square inch of my carry-on timbuk2 purse and rolly bag were filled with books and trinkets and every spare pocket was utilized.

Then came Bertha. (please note names of airport employees have been changed so as to avoid posing a further threat to national security by divulging the identities of airport personnel).

Bertha politely informed me that she would have to empty out the entire contents of my timbuk2 purse and that I was not allowed to touch any of the objects until they were all removed and deemed unfit for a hostile takeover of the aircraft. In this purse were several articles of clothing, a laptop, a laptop battery, a tin full of various small knickknacks, a few books (though thankfully my Qur’an was in my other carryon which was not “randomly” chosen), an ipod-shaped paperweight, a functioning ipod shuffle, and a camcorder case which was, of course, filled with random electronic wires and chargers and a Christmas ornament. After the table was filled with my belongings, Bertha reached in the bottom of the bag and emerged with what I knew to be an espresso mug wrapped in paper and scotch tape but which she presumed to be some form of sophisticated, covert weaponry. After a few minutes of struggling with weapon-grade scotch tape and wrapping paper Bertha emitted an exasperated sigh and said “What is this?”

“An Espresso Mug.”

“A what?”

“Small Coffee Cup.”

**concerned look**

“Tea Cup.”

“Oh, alright then, you may re-pack your bags.”

My ability to communicate across cultures astounds me. I looked at my watch and we still had about 20 minutes until our plane started boarding. After I crammed everything back into my purse we had approximately 13 minutes. So much for Starbucks or a less-than-hearty snack. We scampered to our gate and saw a few people lining up while a big screen television informed us that hours earlier some gentlemen had been arrested with an explosive device of some sort at that particular airport. Good for Bertha et al. A few minutes later, a grouping including our row was instructed to board. I picked up both carry-ons and Abbey and I queued. Abbey handed a lady her passport, the lady scanned it, and instructed Abbey to have a nice flight. I handed a lady my passport, she scanned it, her computer buzzed, a red square with bold letters popped up, she turned the screen away and I was instructed to carry all of my luggage to a corner as she handed my passport to a security guard. Super.

“This is what I get for going abroad to study the Middle East and Islam,” I thought to myself as Ron White’s “profiling is wrong” bit began to play in my mind.

Abbey was told she could sit in another corner and wait for me. In 20 minutes, our plane would take off. After informing the security guard that one of my bags had already been scanned by a lovely, young lady at the last random checkpoint, he informed me that Bertha’s inspection would have no bearing on this search and seizure as hers was done on behalf of the British government and I was now “randomly” selected by the US Department of Homeland Security. Apparently she should have tried harder to unwrap my tea cup. Hurrah.

Nigel Spiffywick was a very amusing English gentleman whose task was to inspect my luggage and whose real name was, in fact, not Nigel Spiffywick, but it should have been. After nearly throwing his back out picking up the larger of the two cases he politely asked if I would place it on the table and then refrain from any further touching of the bag or its contents.

“Yes Sir.”

He opened the bag. [Warning: his remark upon viewing the contents of my bag will, as I understand it, be at least minorly offensive to any British folk who may be reading] “Bloody ‘ell.” He looked at me with disbelief.

“How did you fit all of this into here?”
“Impressive, isn’t it? My wife and I are moving from France to the States and I spent hours meticulously placing everything in there…the plane won’t take off without me will it?”

He looked half amused, half upset, and half regretful of the life choices which led him to this career on this day at this time. We’ve all been there. “No, it’s running late anyway.”

“Oh good.” I smiled.

I looked over my shoulder where I expected Abbey to be reading a book or to be similarly amused by Nigel’s plight. She was hurriedly speaking with the gentleman holding my passport and looking visibly distraught. Bloody ‘ell. I looked at Nigel and, through the universal language of silent mancommunication acknowledged that neither of us were particularly enjoying this experience. After he filled the table with half of the bag’s contents and the shuttle had taken all but the last few passengers unfortunate enough to be waiting on Mr. Spiffywick and I to the plane, Nigel began stacking things on the floor. He opened the box with a tea pot which was wrapped in and filled with lightweight scarves before leafing through each of the 12 books that I had fit in there. One of which was, indeed, my Qur’an. Fortunately for me I was clever enough to place my Bible right next to my Qur’an when packing just for this type of occasion. Nigel stacked half of the books on the corner of the table and the other half on the floor. He then looked at my rather colorful collection of undergarments that were stacked in the bottom of the case.

“Underwear means we’re at the bottom of the case” I politely informed him.

“Thank God,” he replied without his prior lighthearted cheeriness.

Nigel filled the suitcase back up with everything off of the table and began the struggle to get it to close and zip when I informed him that, despite the bag being full, he had neglected to include the large pile of my belongings which were now resting on the floor.

“Oh, Bloody ‘ell!”

“Haha, Bloody ‘ell Indeed.”

Nigel placed all of my belongings back in the case and hurriedly rummaged through my other carry-on case. He also did not fully unwrap my teacup. Abbey and I got on the bus full of annoyed glares and made our way to the plane where we had safe and happy travels back to Dulles. Fortunately, thanks to Nigel Spiffywick’s thorough search I was in Centieme’s car within 45 minutes of landing in Dulles – no more “random” screenings…until we got to TGIFriday’s for dinner and, because my wallet and passport were in the car as opposed to on my person ready for inspection, I was denied the opportunity to enjoy a welcome home from Samuel Adams himself by the 12 year old waitress who insisted on see my ID.

Welcome Home.

Thanks for reading

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Dear Paris

Dear Paris,

In the last few days, you may have noticed that an element of freedom and democracy was missing from your large crowds of grouchy pedestrians. You may have noticed the painful absence of a certain purse-wielding American hip-checking and tripping his way through your rues. You may also have noticed a sharp decline in the purchases of two euro “lager” brand beer and rum soaked twinkies. Perhaps you have convinced yourself that this American who has become such a vital part of your identity as one of the world’s great cities must be on another one of his weekend jaunts to Strasbourg, Chantilly, Le Havre, or Brussels and that, certainly, he will be back soon. I am presently spending a few days in Nice, reminiscing about the time we have spent together over the past 10 months or so and, while you may be waiting with open metros for my return, I will not be returning for some time.

We’ve had our ups and downs, but who hasn’t? I remember walking to the bus stop by les Invalides in late March wearing my fleece jacket under my leather jacket as the wind blew my rain-soaked scarf to and fro. At that point, I couldn’t help but think what a cold, merciless, heartless wench you had become. I was ready to be done with you. Over the past ten months you have given me about 8 of cold, 6 of cold and rain, and one month of possibly the worst heat I have experienced sans air conditioning. But that left six weeks. During those weeks your streets were beautiful – with the constant hum of street cleaning trucks in the background, the trillions of overfed pigeons begging for more baguettes, your pedestrians a tad less grouchy, and the metro smelling of springtime. Then there was the 50 square meter screen across from the Eiffel tower that you provided for me to watch the world cup, nearly enough to convince me that there was no need to move on…but move on I must.

As I stated earlier, Paris, I will be returning to the United States, not to you, after my brief tenure here in Nice. It’s not you, I promise, it’s me. Sure the US has its problems – oil spills, an ever widening gap between the increasingly vocal extremes of our political spectrum in an unceasing attempt not to win but to see the other party dragged through the mud on their way to losing, two wars that, regrettably, don’t seem to be ending any time soon, lack of efficient public transit in many major cities, fast food, intolerance, and the mets – but, to be honest, I miss it. While, in terms of historical significance, there is nowhere in the states that can attempt to compete with you for at least another couple centuries, there’s a certain je ne se quoi about it that is drawing me back…or maybe it is just the impending expiration of my French visa. Either way, I’m sure I’ll be back…one day, but for now, I think it is best if you and I take a break, see the world, meet new people, build new relationships and rekindle old ones (maybe you can use this time to work on the relationship of your country to its football club).

Perhaps one day we’ll meet again and reminisce about the times we’ve had. Perhaps I’ll write a book cataloguing all of our mishaps and adventures. Perhaps our time together will simply live on as memories, photographs, and witty blog posts. Winter with you may be miserable, though not nearly as miserable as your heat-stroke-inducing summers; most of your citizens will be embedded in my mind as gruff, disgruntled imbeciles who don’t know how to walk in a straight line; and your metro, while convenient, often smells less than pleasant. But the good times we had together were great. I know you’ve been going through some identity issues over the past year and I really hope you get those figured out, but I must move on.

Next time I pour myself a glass of vin rouge or dunk a twinkie in a shot of Bacardi, I’ll be sure to pour one out in memory of the time we’ve spent together. While this blog may take a new character in the coming weeks, just know that I started it to catalogue our time together and, at it’s heart, that’s what [TBA] is all about.

I wish you nothing but the best in your future endeavors. Please stay in touch.

A bientôt,
Tommy

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines Part 4

The Metro is Like a Box of Chocolates (except it smells like pee)


WARNING: THE ONLY THING MORE DISGUSTING THAN READING THIS POST WAS LIVING THIS POST. IN THE ENSUING PARAGRAPHS I WILL RELAY THE SMELLS OF THE PARISIAN METRO WHICH ARE FAR FROM PLEASANT. THE AUTHOR ENCOURAGES THOSE WITH WEAK STOMACHS TO READ THE OPINION SECTION OF THEIR LOCAL NEWSPAPER IN LIEU OF PERUSING THIS POST. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. ONE LAST TIME, THIS POST IS ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING TO THE AUTHOR, WHO PRIDES HIMSELF ON THE FAMILY-FRIENDLY NATURE OF HIS BLOG, BUT SOMETIMES THE TRUTH DOES NOT COME IN PALATABLE PACKAGING. pee pee.








As much as I have enjoyed re-living my day on the metro with you, my faithful readers, there are aspects of the journey that I wish to never relive nor re-experience though will forever remain etched in my memory. I’m not talking about the buttocks on the horizon nor the metro stop reading ladies’ voice – those were amusing memories. I am referring to the ungodly, horrendous, odiferous, and downright stanky aspects of my journey. Just as the rainbow has a spectrum of colors so the metro harbors countless variations of the smell of pee. Some smells are subtle, others are more pungent, but all seem to have at least a hint of expelled urine. During those fateful hours underground, I was privy to this spectrum of urine-laced bouquets. In order to spare myself the mental trauma associated with breathing in these wretched odors, I hope to get through this post as quickly as possible. Ergo, without further ado:

The Station Pere Lachaise at line three smelled like boiled pee and body odor

The Station Reamur Sebastol on the four line smelled like hand soap and urine

Gare de l’Est at the five line wreaked of French fries soaked in pee

St. Jacques (6 line) smelled like someone had urinated in a puddle of wet paint

Boarding the 7 line at Louis Blanc brought to mind vegetables pickled in pee

The actual train on the ten line smelled like olives floating in pee

Under the RER B stop at Chatelet, my handwritten metro notes only say, in all caps, “GROSS PEE”

Montparnasse at the 13 line smelled like someone had peed in a bag of eukanuba dog food

Finally, waiting for the 14 metro at Saint Lazare, I was treated to both bodily functions doused in lemon scented cleaner and for a change of pace at the end of my journey, the metro gods of Bercy exchanged the smell of urine for that of body odor and flatulence.

I hope that was less painful for you than for me and, as always, thanks for reading...or perhaps apologies are in order.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines Part 3

The Sound of Metro

With less than a week left of my existence as an inhabitant of the city of lights, it is quite tempting to write a somber, reflective piece, but instead I have decided to continue to describe – in perhaps too much detail – that fateful day I spent on the metro. As I waited to begin my journey I heard cheers as reggae music began to play above me (you will recall that the Bastille station for the one line is open air but below street level). I couldn’t see what was going on, but the music nearly drew me away from my mission like what I imagined to be a dreadlocked pied French piper. Shortly after I boarded the train I heard a startling, yet somewhat soothing woman’s voice. She sounded remarkably similar to my father’s GPS device, only with a French accent. She was in charge of reading all of the stops as the train stopped at them, kind of a boring job, if you ask me…then again, I remain unemployed so GPS/Metro reader lady is a couple steps ahead of me. She actually worked on several different metro lines and even in some stations – reminding me to “mind the gap” at the stop “Arts et Metiers” as passengers disembarked the 3 line. Perhaps she is in charge of the metro…I’ll have to look into this at a later date.

46 minutes after I began my journey I was treated to the most pleasant sound of all: Silence. I had a train all to myself on the 3bis for two entire stops. As I waited to board the four line I heard someone speaking gibberish at me and looked up to see a very confused young man. Upon quick reflection I recognized this gibberish as French and began to instinctively reply “je ne parle pas le francais, je suis desole” but then a little voice in my head shouted: “you’ve been here for nine months, damn it, give it a shot.” Once again, I gave in to the voices. The confused gentleman was asking which direction the train was going (little did he know he was consulting an expert!), I told him which direction the train was headed, he replied “merci,” and we went our merry ways. Good for me. Shortly thereafter I heard a strange voice over the loudspeakers of line 5 – it was not the gentle GPS/Metro lady I had come to know and love, but a gruff French man who mumbled and spoke too fast. Then the train stopped. I can only assume the voice and stoppage were related but have no idea how. Three minutes later he spoke again and many on the train left. I did what I do in most situations – convince myself that I know what I am doing and ignorantly sit there. A few minutes later the train started moving again. I win.

Two lines later, on the seven line, I was privy to the greatest sound I had heard yet – an overweight Frenchman with a fanny pack full of amplifiers attached to his microphone and his guitar singing “Hit the Road, Jacques.” Good for him. At 2:07 another grouchy French person’s voice came over the loudspeakers, except this time on the 9 line…the train stopped AND the lights went out. 5 minutes later the French person spoke again and literally every passenger except for me got off the train. There was a group of very confused Spanish-speaking folks who looked downright petrified. I, of course, kept my cool. Two minutes later the lights went on, the “get all body parts away from the doors” buzzer buzzed and the Spanish speakers and I were off. Then, again, at 2:46 on the 10 line I heard a third French person’s voice say something as the train screeched to a halt and the lights went off. Nobody moved or spoke for 3 entire minutes. The lights went on, the train moved to the next stop and a rather loud gentleman beside me leapt from the train, thrust his arms into the air and proclaimed “Boys and Girls: It’s SHOWTIME!” I believe he even did spirit fingers. I giggled heartily.

On the thirteen line, I heard shouting…which was odd, considering there was nearly nobody on the train. I saw a woman and a man in a physical altercation over a seat…I repeat on a nearly empty train. It must have been quite a comfy seat. At each stop on the last two lines the GPS/Metro lady sang her sweet song announcing the stops creating a wonderful symmetry to my journey. I had heard many things – some soothing, others annoying, and still others startling but the metro trip was certainly an auditory treat…olfactorily speaking, however, this trip was no walk in a sweet-smelling park. Stay tuned for the final installment: The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines Part 4: The Metro is Like a Box of Chocolates, except it smells like pee.

As always ,thanks for reading.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines Part 2

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Metro de Paris

“Is that a buttocks on the horizon?” I pondered, making my way through la station Remur Sebastol shortly after noon. Upon further inspection, it was, indeed, a man’s buttocks. This man had lowered his pantalon to his knees, was lifting his shirt up to his shoulders and doing his part to make sure that this station’s pee gutters were being utilized to their fullest capacity. The walls of most metros are lined with these small trenches that are likely intended to rid the station of excess rain water or cleaning solvents on the rare occasion that the metro is hosed down. They are more often utilized in the manner described above. They are also sometimes used for the purposes of regurgitation as was the case about an hour later in la station Place D’italie. Fortunately this concludes the bodily excretions segment of the sights mine eyes have seen during that fateful day on the metro.

The day began about an hour before my encounter with pee man as I was gazing out the window of the Bastille station thinking “I am an idiot.” At this point, I noticed a gentleman standing next to me. “Regardes les bateaus!” He mumbled, proudly displaying both of his teeth as he smiled and gestured towards the row of boats with his tall can of high ABV cheap beer. I smiled, nodded my head, and we parted ways. The train pulled up and I wedged myself in the back of the car – an area which the teenage couple beside me seemed to have mistaken for a bedroom. And I thought the hip-hop dancers dancing over my head at Bastille would be the most entertaining teenagers I would see that day.

Not to be outdone (so-to-speak) by the passengers of Line 1, Line 2 had its own assortment of crazies. The lady with bright orange hair who was donning a neon green jacket and bright pink leggings frantically darting from passenger to passenger in search of the time, for instance. Between each interrogation she would check her cellular telephone and watch…maybe she was quizzing everyone. As hard as she was to ignore, I noticed an approximately 30 year old man on the other end of the bus with long hair and a goatee who looked somewhat upset. Then came the tears. Two stops later as I exited the train the man had begun to bawl.

11:41 marked my first mullet sighting as the 3bis flew by the most disgusting station in Paris – Saint Fargeaux. Fortunately I have no idea what it smelled like, but I’m guessing something between rotting flesh and brimstone. Every inch of the wall was covered in mold in various shades of green, blue, yellow, and death. At the other end of the metro spectrum are Gambetta, Concorde, Cadet, and Gare de Lyon which resemble a discotheque, a giant crossword puzzle, a Georgia Fourth of July celebration, and a jungle respectively. Many metros are also bedazzled with various advertisements, one of which depicts a hybrid hippo-headed-goldfish in pursuit of a scuba penguin. It was my favorite.

Lines 5, 6, and 7 introduced me to the booger eater, a child mullet, and headlamp man. Headlamp man was joined on the seven by featherhats and fannypack speaker guy. More on fannypack speaker guy in the sounds section, but his singing was amplified by the speaker that he held in his bright turquoise fanny pack. On the 8 line I was given a glimpse into the future of the makeout couple from line 1 as I was seated across from a middle aged couple who had similarly mistaken the car for an appropriate place to grope one another. On the Nine, the train broke down, the lights went out, and 90% of the people got off when some announcement was made in French. I ignored it and waited ten minutes until the train started up again. I win.

Between the 10, 11, and 12 I spent a great deal of time in Chatelet walking. During this time, I saw several murals, three teenagers being escorted out of the metro by RATP police for throwing candy at people, and found out that I had the power to re-animate broken escalators simply by walking the wrong direction on them. If you’ve never been jolted backward and upward by the ground beneath your feet while descending a staircase, I don’t really recommend it. On the 13 and 14 I was in somewhat of a haze, though I did get to watch two adults fight for a seat on a sparsely populated train. So ended my adventure.

While French postcards often give the illusion that the sights of Paris are limited to its many monuments, the real Paris is found deep underground. Paris isn’t la tour Eiffel, les invalides, Notre Dame, or Sacre Cœur. The real sights of La Ville-Lumiere are mold, themed metro stations, overly-affectionate Parisians, drunks, and pee gutters.

Thanks for reading about the sights, and stay tuned for The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines Part 3: The Sound of Metro.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Master of Metro

On Friday, the 28th of May, 2010, I embarked on a mission that would forever change the planet. I spent 5 hours and 32 minutes riding each of Paris’ metros…in Numerical order. I entered the underground labyrinth at 11:04AM. At 4:36 PM I emerged. I saw in front of me a new world – one in which I now held a unique place as one of Paris’ most ambitious idiots with nothing better to do. As my eyes readjusted to natural sunlight and my body to life above ground, I have come to terms with this new identity, reflecting on the 1 hour and 47 minutes spent in various metro stations, the 3 hours and 45 minutes aboard Paris’ 16 metro lines, and the 3 hours and 49 minutes spent without catching so much as a glimpse of the light of day. I saw things that were disturbing, amusing, awe-inspiring, and boring. I smelled things that made me want to vomit, left me feeling light-headed, things that were confusing, out of place, and many odd combinations of familiar smells. During this brief period of reflection, I have been musing over the way to most effectively communicate this experience to you, my loyal readers. After debating between chronologically relaying my experience or crafting a list of superlatives (i.e. most heinous smell – which, by the way, would go to Chatelet for its creative re-interpretation of the classic “stale urine”) I decided on a third option. I hope that this mode of classification – “The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines” – will effectively bring you aboard the metro, underground, to join with me in this life-altering experience. Without further ado,

The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines Part 1: A Framework for Understanding Idiocy

Before I delve into the underground world of rancid smells, overly affectionate couples, flashing lights, and strange announcements, I believe it would benefit the reader to have somewhat of a framework within which to place these various experiences. After four or five post-graduation days of sitting on my duff looking on the internet for jobs I grew weary of inactivity (though it was cold and rainy for several of the days, so I probably would have stayed inside anyway) and eager to do something that mattered. One night I realized that instead of sitting around all day looking at the same websites/search engines/classified postings that hadn’t changed in the last 5 days I would ride all 16 Metro lines of Paris in order. I pulled out my metro map and began to chart my course. The next day, I completed the following voyage:


(I recommend right-clicking on the above image and opening in a new window/tab)

Beginning at Bastille, I took the 1 Line to Nation where I boarded the 2 Line. Exiting the 2 line at Pere Lachaise I took the 3 line up one stop to Gambetta where I rode the 3bis line for it’s full cycle before returning to Gambetta and re-boarding the 3 line in the opposite direction. From there, I made the switch from the 3 line to the 4 line at Reamur Sebastol and the 4 to 5 at Gare de L’est. Then I rode back towards my home metro station, Place D’italie, and changed from the 5 to 6, turned around on the 6 at St. Jacques, rode it back to the D’it (as we locals call it) in order to get on the 7. That trip was the last time during the journey that I would see the sun. I took the 7 line for what seemed like an eternity before boarding the 7bis at Louis Blanc. This was the “make or break” portion of the trip where I struggled against every fiber of my being which was shouting “you are an idiot, this is a waste of time, go home, there haven’t even been any accordion players yet.” I rode the full circle of the 7bis and was faced with a brutal decision. I got back on the 7 line knowing full well I could ride it back to the D’it and pretend I never had this awful idea or embarked on this smelly, damp, dark expedition.

I did no such thing. Reinvigorated, rising to the challenge of pushing myself beyond my former threshold of metro tolerance, I boarded the 8 at Opera, the 9 at Richelieu-Drouot, and the 10 at Michel-Ange-Auteuil. If I thought that the first ten lines were difficult, the next few connections would be the types of tests that break or forge champions. The 10 does not directly connect to the 11, nor the 11 to the 12. This would take a leap of creative brilliance – a leap which, fortuitously, I am uniquely qualified to make. I disembarked the 10 line at Cluny La Sorbonne, walk underground to the RER B at St. Michel Notre Dame and take the RER B to Chatelet to connect with the 11. I would like to point out that this did not break the numerical chain of metro rides.

Point Tommy.

I rode the 11 Line for a few stops and turned back around at Rambuteau to walk back through the massive underground universe that is Chatelet. I then rode the RER A to Auber where I walked approximately one half to three quarters of a mile, beneath the earth’s surface and through the stations Havre Caumartin and Hausman St. Lazare, passing by metros 3 and 9 and the RER E in order to arrive at St. Lazare where I began the final leg of this arduous adventure. I rode the 12 from St. Lazare to Gare Montparnasse and the 13 from Gare Montparnasse back to St. Lazare. Dazed and groggy I awaited the 14 line to arrive at St. Lazare and when it did, I was in a state of disbelief. Stepping through the automatic sliding glass doors into the obscenely bright, blue and grey themed metro train, I had done it. Victory. At station Bercy, I switched over to the 6 line to the D’it. That ride was a blur. Shortly thereafter, I was back above ground, a changed man.

I hope that this somewhat lengthy, less-than-hilarious summary of the days’ events and the course of my travels will aid in all of your enjoyment of the remaining portions of this tale. This is the story of an event which I will, in all likelihood, never attempt again, but it was something I felt must be attempted. At various points and during various activities in the days since, my loving wife has looked at me and said “I can’t believe you rode all 14 metro lines…you are an idiot.”

I can’t say that I entirely disagree.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for Part 2: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Metro de Paris

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Answering a Higher Call

There are no words to describe the importance of the endeavor of which I will, today, be in pursuit. I will attempt a feat the likes of which have never been attempted or completed in the history of humanity as far as this blog is concerned. My wife says it’s both a waste of time and a silly idea. I say that there exists a fine line between stupidity and greatness and I plan to have a foot on each side. I will see sights few have seen and smell smells that few would be able to stomach. I will spend a majority of my day underground taking in every aspect of my damp, dark, odiferous surroundings. Today, beginning at the Bastille, I will ascend the Metro’s 1 Line…and ride it to the 2 Line…to the 3 Line, to the 3bis Line, back to the 3 Line and beyond until I have ridden each of Paris’ 16 Metro Lines – including 3bis and 7bis – in numerical order. But wait, my adventure will just be beginning – upon my descent from the 14 Line at Bibliotheque Fr. Mitterand I will proceed to ride all 5 RER lines that roar through the city like untamed beasts. The road will be long, the battles not easy, but this is a mission I must complete for the common good of every man, woman, and child who has ever dreamed of being a part of something bigger than themselves…and to avoid having to look for jobs.

There will be challenges to overcome, but armed with a purse full of supplies and two Master’s degrees in fields mostly unrelated to the Paris metro, I will use my god-given creative capacities for problem solving, my unsurpassed wit and wisdom, and my metro map to conquer any and all who stand between myself and my lofty goal. The 10 line doesn’t connect to the 11 line? At all? Well, my loyal readers, it will today. Today, I will not be scouring the websites of churches and non-profit agencies in search of an occupation; no: today I will be in search of a higher purpose. In the past four years I have Mastered Divinity and I have Mastered the Middle East and Islam. Today: I Master the Metro.



Wish me luck and Thanks for reading.

UPDATE: I spent 5 hours and 32 minutes on the Metro, roughly the last four hours or so entirely underground. 16 up. 16 Down. In numerical order. Success. No RER at the end though. More to come.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Night of Culture

Last Saturday, on the 83 bus, Abbey and I had an in-depth discussion regarding the amount of personal growth that I have undergone this year abroad. One minute, we were admiring my oft-mentioned shattering of preconceived gender-related behaviors such as purse-carrying and tight-jean-donning and the next we were discussing the effects of a year of intensive study of the Middle East and Islam at an international university among diverse peers on my American Protestant worldview. We even remarked on how admirable and cultured it was that we were on our way to enjoy an intriguing retrospective of the life and work of Yves St. Laurent and his impact on the world of high fashion and culture as well as society at large.

This was an activity encouraged by Paris’ Annual “Nuit des Musées” where museums are opened to the public free of charge for all those who wish to engage their intellects at a reasonable cost. Events like this, I believe, are highly beneficial to society as they encourage the populous to engage in communally centered cultural activities (it at least denies those who do not participate the fiscal excuse). As we disembarked we eagerly anticipated the life and work of Yves that we would soon immerse ourselves in, alongside our fellow Parisians. We got to the front of Le Petit Palais, but noticed that there would be a short wait to enter the exhibit.

As we walked past the first few people in the line, we realized the wait would not be as short as we had anticipated; however, it would be well worth our wait. As we sauntered past the “estimated time: 2 hours” sign, we began to do some mental math. A few moments later, we neared the Champs Elysees and came to the realization that we had not yet reached the halfway point of this line. The line went right – towards the Obelisque that Napolean was umm given by Egypt. Abbey and I turned left.

It was, after all, 21h30 (that’s how French people write 9:30PM). We watched the sun set (yes, it sets rather late) behind L’arc de Triomphe, walked hand in hand through a park and meandered around the Champs Elysees area before heading back towards our bus stop. But wait. We saw another museum that had no line. We were going to be cultural after all! We proudly walked up the stairs, received our free tickets from the gentleman with the moustache at the welcome station, and proceeded to fix our gaze and attention on the display in front of us. Neither Abbey nor I were entirely familiar with the subject of the exhibit, which made it even more exhilarating, enlightening, engaging, and several other polysyllabic words beginning with the letter ‘e’ than Abbey and I could have hoped for.



We saw all different sorts of Dinosaur poo and learned about how archaeologists are able to differentiate hardened feces from normal rocks and how they can learn about the digestive process of animals that have been extinct since the great flood when Noah kicked the poor Pachycephalosauruses…or is it Pachycephalosaurii?...off of his ark!

What?

No, of course I didn’t touch the poo.



Fine. I touched old Poo. I also saw several substantial piles of poo.



And for those who don't trust me, but prefer to rely on the translator of french curators:



On the way home, Abbey and I had another in-depth discussion regarding the phenomenon that, no matter how much change one undergoes during the course of a year, there are one or two personality traits that obstinately refuse to part ways with the otherwise matured and enlightened individual.

Turns out it may take more than one year in Paris for me to cease to be amused by giant piles of poo masquerading as a scientific exhibit…it may take similarly long for me to avoid imitating said dinosaurs in public while my wife shakes her head in embarrassment…and takes a picture.



Thanks for reading

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Pendulum

In the absence of glowing mullets and disco-ball-themed passengers, I am forced to use other coping mechanisms to retain my composure during my daily metro rides. I have previously mentioned the erratic mode of operating that seems to be the norm for metro conductors. Additionally, I have previously mentioned how…we’ll say “cozy” that metro rides can be. On a crowded metro – as in geopolitical international relations – space that one can call one’s own rates as both a highly limited and highly desirable commodity. There are many often utilized ways to procure and maintain one’s personal space on a crowded metro – smoker breath, coughing/sneezing/sniffling, body odor, creepy stares, wandering hands…you get the picture. Being a legal temporary resident of Paris with respect for my fellow Parisians as well as someone who prefers to think outside of the proverbial box I wished to secure my personal space on the Metro without resorting to any of the aforementioned means. This is why I invented and hereby copyright “the Pendulum.” Like any tactic, though, “The Pendulum (this phrase and action is protected, copyrighted, the full intellectual property of, and not to be used without expressed written permission of Tommy Carrico, Inc.) has its proper execution and its improper execution. In order to clarify, I will relay personal experiences of proper and improper execution of this brilliant, space-procuring device.


The Pendulum Proper


Necessary Tools: A somewhat weighty purse and a disregard for the comfort and temperament of passengers who may invade one’s personal bubble.

Positioning One’s Self:

- Posture One: Standing against a wall of the train (most effective) or

- Posture Two: Single-handedly grasping the vertical handlebar (in dire situations this posture will suffice)

The Act: One must hold one’s purse in front of him or her (in the case of Posture 1) or beside one’s self (in the case of Posture 2) making sure that it is not resting on the ground, but rather hanging loosely to one’s front or side. Let the laws of physics take their toll on the ankles, shins, and calves of all those around you as the erratic and sudden stops and turns of the drunk metro conductor cause one’s bag to secure at least a 6-inch perimeter around one’s stake of metro territory. One must be extra cautious in seeming oblivious to the motion of one’s purse in order to give the impression that one is but a simple-minded, careless buffoon rather than a scheming, brilliant, comfortably-not-cramped metro passenger.


The Pendulum Improper


Necessary Tools: Living Beings and a complete disregard for the safety, comfort, and well-being of said living beings

Positioning One’s Self: In positioning one’s self to execute the Pendulum Improper, one must pick up whichever live being one might wish to use in one or both hands before proceeding to mumble, curse, and swing all one’s limbs (especially those clutching the leash, neck, or limb of a living being) violently and randomly in several different directions.

The Act: Fairly self explanatory with the given posture and just as effective as Pendulum Proper in the procurement of space, though less effective in giving the impression that one is a civil human being. I have witnessed the utilization of children and dogs in the execution of Pendulum Improper. A few days ago, a rather frazzled older woman was taking her dog for a walk and, for whatever reason, they wound up on the Metro line 8. The poor, frazzled lady’s poor, frazzled dog seemed to be somewhat afraid of either boarding the metro or was familiar with the events that were about to ensue and was obstinately refusing to willingly submit to acting as this woman’s pendulum. The dog did not win this test of wills as it was swung about in the air by its leash, knocking into several passengers before landing in a purse thereby being utilized as a rare combination of The Pendulum Proper and Improper which I like to call “the-crazy-old-lady-who-should-not-be-responsible-for-the-safety-and-well-being-of-another-living-being." I’ve said this before, but being a general fan of canines, I honestly mean that I wish I was making this stuff up.

For a re-cap of the Children-Being-Used-As-A-Pendulum Episode, click here.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ode de Toilet

One of the great things about living abroad is that the vast amount of life experiences in a foreign language mandate that one learn a diverse array of vocabularies in said foreign language. This is always a non-stressful, enjoyable experience for all parties involved.

That paragraph is completely incorrect.

As my more astute readers will have deduced, I am about to relay the story that has captivated the minds and energies of the Carrico, Jr family abroad in Paris for the past week or so. This is the story of our noisy toilet and concerned neighbors. You see, when we lift the lever to flush the toilet, it takes roughly seven hours to refill, intermittently making a loud hissing noise for the entirety of those seven hours. If during those seven hours either I or my wife find it necessary to use the loo, tack another seven hours onto the remaining amount of the prior seven hours. Apparently, we have reached the point of no return. We have used the toilet during its seven hour refill period enough times that the toilet will be hissing, spurting, and squeaking in a vain attempt to refill until doomsday. Cue the neighbors.

I have developed a spectrum of responses to French people who ask me for directions, make comments, ask for change, etc. These responses fall under three broad categories: ‘nervous smile and nod and keep moving;’ ‘pretend I didn’t hear the French person;’ and my personal favorite and most effective: the ‘blank basset-houndesque stare.’ Not only do these responses work individually, but they are also highly effective in keeping me from speaking French when used together. For instance, we walked into our apartment building the other day to be confronted by concerned neighbor number one. She said something to me and was promptly met with a combo 'blank basset nod, smile, keep moving.' She shook her head in disgust and started talking to Abbey. As Abbey and I ascended the eight flights of stairs to our apartment, Abbey relayed the information to me that there was **gasp** a leaky faucet somewhere on our side of the building and concerned neighbor number one worried that one of our faucets may not have been able to withstand the great influx of liberty and freedom into our apartment. Abbey assured her that none of our faucets were leaking. We entered our apartment and were greeted by our hissing, snorting, not-yet-refilled toilet.

The next day, we noticed that a concerned neighbor had posted a flier in our elevator alerting all of those who live on the ‘B’ side that there was a leaky faucet somewhere, wreaking havoc on the well-being of our entire building. There was an additional note, however, that it may not be a faucet, but…a leaky toilet. We had been found out. We nervously drafted an e-mail to our apartment owner to inform him of the dire situation in which we had placed all of our innocent neighbors – should we call a plumber or should Tommy take the lid off the back of the toilet and unscrew things until it stops making noise?

Guess which one ‘we’ chose?

After disassembling the things that I could figure out how to remove from the back of the toilet, it was still making noise, so I turned off the water (apparently this is step #1 that I had inadvertently skipped). While I was tinkering, we received a prompt e-mail back explaining to us that replacing the “clapet” (pronounced “clopp-PAY”) was a yearly task and that, odds are, by so doing we would remedy toilet-geddon. I removed the clopppay and we ventured off to Bric-o-Rama (French Home Depot) only to be confronted in the hallway by concerned neighbor number two. He said bonjour to me and received the fourth of my looks: “I am annoyed and don’t feel like talking to French people” along with the latter half of the "nervous smile and nod and keep moving" (just the "nod and keep moving" part for those curious). I had a clopppay in a bag and was going to buy a replacement. The man, however, was able to talk to Abbey because she, for whatever reason, talks to French people (it’s like she enjoys making use of the second language she knows). He told us that he was sure that the drastic leakage was coming from the excess America that we accidentally brought with us because he had heard the noise coming from our apartment. Abbey (per my instruction) assured him that we had no leaky faucets.

We returned about 45 minutes later with a new clopppay in hand, ready to fix our broken toilet. I replaced the clopppay, reattached the bobbers, turned the water back on, and flushed.

**hiss, gurgle, spurt, spit**

Pause.

Hope.

**hiss, gurgle, spurt, spit**

Damn!

I poured a bucket of water into the back of the toilet.

Silence.

More silence.

Success!

So now the plan is to leave the back lid of the toilet open and dump a bucket of water in it every time we flush which would assuage the worries of concerned neighbors one and two and put an end to the era of the horrible toilet noise. After about a day, Abbey and I had grown weary of this practice as well as the fact that toilet flushes are much, much louder when the thick hunk of porcelain is removed from the toilet’s back. What happened next became another item in the long list of reasons that it pays to be married to an honest, outgoing, bi-lingual woman. While I was at school, Abbey spoke with concerned neighbor number one who called in concerned neighbor number two to enter our apartment and examine our john.

He said that it was completely normal (see: Tommy didn’t break anything while taking apart a toilet that had nothing wrong with it to begin with). The next day, the concerned neighbor committee hatched a plan to shut off the water in the building for an hour and try to fix something unrelated to our toilet that may have caused the building-wide problem. It worked. Our toilet now finishes re-filling promptly after flushing.

For those keeping score at home:

Tommy’s solution: when talking to our neighbors we should adamantly proclaim that nothing was wrong, then take the toilet apart, buy a new part, put it back together, then plan to dump water in it every time we flushed for the next three months when all of that failed.

Abbeys solution: explain to the neighbors that our toilet makes a funny noise only to find out that there was no problem with our toilet but rather the building's water system and the problem was fixed the next day.

Maybe it’s time for me to start talking to French people.

F.Y.I.
‘Fuite d’eau’ means ‘leak’
‘Chasse d’eau’ means ‘flush’
‘Robinet qui goutte’ means ‘drippy faucet’
‘le bassin’ means ‘the back of the toilet’
‘clappet’ means ‘flapper’
‘flotteur’ means ‘plastic floater thing attached to the flusher/refill doober’
‘coupure d’eau’ means ‘we’re cutting off the water’
‘compteur’ means ‘water meter’

And, finally,

‘Abbey avait raison et je n’avais pas raison’ means…look it up.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You'll be Able to Visit the Louvre on One Channel...

I hope that, as a reader of this blog and, therefore, probably a friend or relative of mine you appreciate the title of this post. If not, go watch the movie “Cable Guy” no less than ten times and return to reading.

Seriously.

If you don’t have time to watch what is arguably the greatest movie ever created, you can just click here.

Enough about cinematic brilliance, this post is entirely dedicated to artistic brilliance in all its splendor. A couple weeks ago my brother and sister came to visit and we saw and scaled just about every Parisian monument one can imagine. The most tiring day, for me, was when we spent five hours in the Louvre, taking in hundreds of years’ worth of majestic artwork.

The first portion of the Louvre we decided to meander through was the sculpture rooms. This section of the museum, like the rest of them, was massive. One area, though, was somewhat troubling. Every single statue was missing something, though, between the three of us, we couldn’t name the attribute that each statue lacked. Then it hit us. Heads. None of them had heads. An entire room of statues…each one decapitated. While some families may stand slack-jawed in dismay at the room full of torso-topped legs, we Carricos are problem solvers.



From the sculptures, we moved on to observe all of the paintings that this museum had to offer. I grew to appreciate the minute details of each painter, as he or she added their own personal touch to each painting with a uniquely positioned stroke of the brush. There were little aspects of each painting that struck a small chord for a short time. The effect that these diminutive, dare I say lilliputian, additions to the paintings had on my enjoyment of the piece far surpassed their bantam stature.



While the next piece we viewed was certainly no large piece of artwork, it is perhaps the most recognized painting on the planet and a must-see for all those visiting the Louvre: The Mona Lisa. She has her own wall and no less than three security guards around her at all times, there is a huge crowd gathered around her, all pressing in to get as close to the roped off boundary 20 feet from the painting as possible. We made our way through the crowd in order to get the best, dead-center view of the masterpiece that we could. As the people parted and we neared the front of the pack, we were treated to a view of the Mona Lisa that will be permanently etched within the fibers of our art-loving souls for the remainder of our lives.



This museum is full of two things: the famous works of well known artists, and highly confused curators. One painting, in particular, showcased the uncertainty of the enterprise of labeling paintings crafted by the world’s most famous artists?



This next painting may not have necessarily caught my eye months ago, however, my French has reached the level that its title was enough to merit a second gander. I took a picture of both the painting as well as its title so that Abbey could confirm that either a.) my French had vastly improved or b.) I was still quite dumb. Though the result was a mixture of a.) and b.), I am proud to say that my rough translation: “kid getting his leg chopped off because he slapped his momma” was a fairly accurate rendering.





Finally, aside from the Mona Lisa, there was another piece that I needed to see. For purposes of entertainment and vindication we saved this 16th Century Bronze sculpture for the end of the day, capping off an exciting venture through a world renowned collection of art. This particular piece had great personal significance for me as it represents an early example of a contemporary work that utterly transformed my life. I am speaking, of course, of “Gnôme à L’escargot,” or “Gnome on a Snail.”



I earnestly hope that you enjoyed the Louvre as much as I did!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 29, 2010

What page is this?

I know what you may be thinking and 1. Yes, that is an awesome purse in that picture and 2. Yes, as a matter of fact I have three final papers, a few hundred pages of reading, and half a research project to finish...so I revamped the blog.

I have attempted to make it both more aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly – the front page will now only display the most recent blog post, though you can scroll all the way to the bottom to see all of your favorite old posts, the still non-existent “About Me” link, and the list of all the other cool kids following the blog (seriously, they are ALL doing it). More blog, less link-related shenanigans on the sidebar...that’s my motto. I believe the blue background accentuates the focal point of the header: my first purse. While this purse has been retired, I’m sure it holds as dear a place in your hearts as it does in mine. With regards to the title of the blog...it’s the same (likely a by-product of the conservative portion of my moderate mind that, though it can appreciate some change, periodically pauses to say ‘let’s not get ahead of ourselves here’). I considered coming up with a clever, new title, but...didn’t. I can only hope that Bob and Eric continue to be loyal readers despite the removal of their names from the title bar...

Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think about the new look, and please enjoy!


Enough about the new look, now for the France update:

There are about 7.5 weeks between right now and AUP’s graduation…which means that our time in Paris is sadly winding down. There are several questions that I get a lot, that I’ll go ahead and answer here:


1. Has your French improved?
Yes. However, like many things, I feel like I should have put more time into it, learned more, pushed myself more, read/wrote/spoke more but...I’ve done ok...it hasn't been a complete immersion experience as I am getting an MA from the American University of Paris and am surrounded, suprise! by English speakers, but, like I said, the French has certainly improved.


2. What do you miss most about the states?
Aside from the obvious - an ocean between Abbey and I and a majority of our friends and family - the answer to this question is going to be quite contradictory: Junk Food and the gym. I miss Five Guys. I miss Moe’s. I miss the Varsity, Arby’s, and Chik-fil-a. I never thought of myself as much of a junk food eater until I came here and realized how much I miss it. Which brings me to my second point. When we got over here I had the decision of paying too much for a gym membership or buying a set of dumbbells. I opted for the latter as it involved less of a chance of me lying under a pile of heavy things in a room full of people who don’t speak English...irrational? Maybe. Fiscally responsible? Certainly. But I am looking forward to getting back to the states, picking up heavy things, putting them back down again, and repeating.

3. When are you coming back?
July 8th after a few days in Nice – just in time for the Summer 2010 tour of what is certain to become one of my new favorite bands…stay tuned.

4. What's the best thing about living in Paris for a year? Prolonged exposure to the never-ending amusement that is French people-watching (and I thought Virginia’s annual “CountryFest” was the best place to bask in humanity’s unintentionally entertaining side); Being in an academic program where I feel like I’m seeing ‘the other side of the coin,’ so to speak – learning about familiar time periods and events from a different perspective; finally, every now and then me and Abbey realize that when we got married we had hoped we would be able to spend the year after I finished in Seminary and now, so to speak, we’re living the dream.

That’s all for now…Oh, one more update: our traffic circle (Place D’Italie) was completely blocked off Saturday for a “No Sarkozy Day” demonstration. There were a couple hundred police, many loud protestors, and – I kid you not – French Gangster Rappers putting on quite a show. I celebrated by buying a new, light-weight spring scarf...


Stop laughing at me.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Once, Twice, Three Times a Metro

So I complain about the metro on here. A lot. However, in the past two days the rain clouds parted, a gentle breeze blew through mes cheveux, and the metro gods smiled upon me. I had not one, nor two, but three absolutely stellar encounters on the metro in my last three trips with the finest real-life amusement this city has to offer. If you are one who prefers when I make fun of myself instead of others, I’m sorry. Yesterday and today I looked good…I mean real good…especially compared to the Parisians that I encountered last night, this morning, and this afternoon on lines 8, 6, and 8 respectively.

Ride One; Wednesday Night: "Oh my god I forgot about those!"

It had been an atypically long Wednesday – Abbey and I woke up and went for a jog, arrived back at the apartment in time to read for a while, I then found out the hard way that “choking up” works wonders in correcting one’s baseball swing but is less than pleasant when applied to using a frying pan before heading off to school. I went to class, then did some reading, then went to a speaker. Perhaps the metro gods were rewarding me for entering their lair through an entrance one stop further along the line than my typical routine, but for whatever reason, in that dark, smelly, damp Parisian metro, my day brightened.

I wedged myself between two fellow passengers – avoiding eye contact so that things wouldn’t get more awkward as our entire bodies came into contact. Once I had staked my claim on about 16 square inches of metro I looked up…and there she was. Her curly ponytail reflected the glow of the fluorescent metro bulbs creating what seemed to be a halo around the delicately-coiffed remaining portion of her mullet. She looked like Billy Ray Cyrus’ short, grouchy, middle-aged French sister. Stellar.


Ride Two; Thursday Morning: "Narcotic or Psychotropic?"


Dictionary.com defines narcotics as a “class of substances that blunt the senses…that in large quantities produce euphoria, stupor, or coma,” and Psychotropic drugs as those “affecting mental activity, behavior or perception,” before saying something about them being bad and causing addiction/health problems and whatnot. This guy was likely on a highly amusing combination of several variants of narcotics and psychotropic substances. Now I do not condone these substances as often they lead to things that are not nearly as amusing as the gentleman on the 6 line this morning who not only stared at things that weren’t there, he pointed at them, grabbed at them, and laughed hysterically at them. Additionally, at each stop he would crouch down on the ground and giggle uncontrollably until people surrounded him, at which point he would stop giggling, slowly stand up, and resume his boisterous giggle. This went on for the duration of my 25 minute ride. As though all this wasn't amusing enough, he periodically stroked his face against the [disgusting] metro pole like a puppy dog who wanted table scraps. Once again, Stellar – thank you metro gods.

Ride Three; Thursday Evening: "The Human Disco Ball"

She was wearing headphones so she was unable to hear me giggle…or tell that the entire train was listening to her sing along to her Frenchie music. The headphones apparently also made her oblivious to the fact that the combination of her gray pants, shiny silver jacket and shiny silver purse created the aforementioned effect of making her look like a human disco ball as she swayed back in forth by the metro door singing loudly in her own little human disco ball world. I’ve never seen so many French strangers nudging each other and laughing (especially on the 8 line which for whatever reason attracts many stressed out Pierres). Do I feel a little bad for joining them? Not one bit. Am I being judgmental? Maybe a little…but I’m merely stating my observations without any type of value judgment on this young disco ball lady aside from: hilarious.

The gentlemen with accordions should take note – their accordion playing doesn’t amuse me, but I would gladly have surrendered all of the change on my person to any of these three individuals if they were holding a dirty, crumpled Dixie cup. If any of them are reading this: the offer stands – should we meet again, and you amuse me with your glowing mullet, drug-induced shenanigans, or gently-swaying, disco-ball-sparkling, out-of-tune-overly-animated-singing-with-complete-disregard-for-the-world-around-you, then you have a good amount of centiemes coming your way…not my mother-in-law Centieme, the coin centiemes. I almost want to go get on the metro just to see if my luck holds.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Wife is Smarter than Me.

I’ll give you a moment to absorb the shock of this declaration.

Now that you’ve gathered your composure after the shift in your worldview brought about by the title of this post, I repeat: my wife is smarter than me. She speaks another language (reads and writes in it too) can tell the difference between clean and orderly (I’m told, at least, that there is a difference), and she figured out that the weird buttons in the hallway of our apartment building are light switches after I spent a week stumbling up and down the stairs waving at the lights because I thought they were motion activated. Abbey’s intelligence, however, tends to be of the innocent variety…until this past Saturday.

Saturday, Abbey was clever, plotting even. She had devised a plan to make me speak French. To a stranger. In a circumstance where a mispronunciation or gaffe could have drastic ramifications. I had to speak French to a bubbly, energetic coiffeuse.

This was my second haircut in this country and I wimped out on the first one – I whined and wimpered until Abbey agreed to accompany me instead of speaking French on my own like a big boy. This time, Abbey was accompanying me as well, though she also planned on having her hair trimmed. I was under the impression that I would sit uselessly mute and wait while Abbey got her hair cut and then sit uselessly mute in a chair while Abbey told someone how to make me beautiful. After waiting for a few minutes in the salon, a dashing young man with his shirt half unbuttoned whisked Abbey away to the shampooing station. Abbey smiled. I realized that I had been had.

I was alone. Abbey and Pierre were speaking their secret code language and I did not know what to do. I ran through every bit of vocabulary that I have amassed in the past few months and realized that I knew how to say “more,” “less,” “long,” and “short.” I could make it through this. As I ran through my internal linguistic inventory Abbey and moussehead walked to the front of the salon, waving as they passed. I can only assume that Abbey was detailing to Gerard Depardieu her master plan to make me speak French.

“Monsieur, foo doo fafa fwah fois gras escargot shampwan croissant?” asked the young lady who would soon be trimming my hair as she pointed towards the shampooing station.

Ah! A shampooing!

“Oui.” I confidently replied.

She said something while shampooing my hair and I pretended not to hear her.

She dried off my hair and she pointed towards the chair. I sat. “Qu’est-ce que vous voulez?”

“un petit plus court, s’il vous plait.” (Booyah)

“Quoi?” (damn)

She apparently did not understand what I had thought to be my immaculate pronunciation. I resorted to pointing. She went and got a book of haircuts and opened to a picture of Brad Pitt between a few teenagers’ glamour shots. She pointed at one and said “like this?” I replied “oui, mais un petit plus long.” After pointing and grunting and several “oui”s and “non”s and “plus long”s and “plus court”s, she pulled out the scissors and – I kid you not – apologized to me for speaking in English. Game time.

“Ca c’est bien?”

“Un petit plus courts s’il vous plait.”

“Comme ca?" she asked, pointing at the length that she would make my hair.

“Oui, c’est tres bien.” (And a thumbs up sign – that’s universal right?)

“Voulez vous les cheveux fous?”

umm...“Quoi?”

“Voulez vous les cheveux fous?” I did hear her right…decision time…"did I want the crazy hair?" Perhaps in a subconscious attempt at retaliation towards my wife (after all, she would have to look at my “cheveux fous” until it grew out and became non-crazy again) I replied.

“Porquoi pas?”

We laughed. She pulled out what looked to be scissors, but were in fact half razor half scissors. This could get amusing.

She made my hair crazy, trimmed the neckline and I was on my merry way, only to turn around and see Jean Girard and Abbey looking at me giggling. Abbey got her hair straightened and looked good enough to make me forgive her for her wicked plan to make me talk to French people. We paid and went back to the apartment, her looking radiant and me looking…well…fou. But I chose les cheveux fous.

Success.



My "Cheveux Fous"

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Inlaws Visit Part Four and The Year of the Tiger

The first part of this post is the fourth installment of several Blog Posts which document the no longer recent visit of Abbey’s parents: Due to the traumatizing and irritating nature of many of the events that transpired during their visit their names have been changed to protect the innocent. Abbey’s name was not changed as she knew good and well what she was getting herself into when she said “Yes” when I asked for her delicate hand in marriage (her “yes” was immediately followed by “this is weird!!”).

Abbey’s parents came to visit, and this is their story.

So we left off with doogie howser informing Abbey that she had la bronchite (brawn-SHEET). We took it easy for the rest of the day in the hopes that the next day (Monday) Abbey and I could return to Paris and I would be able to get some work done before my class-ridden Tuesday. HOWEVER, the French RER (train) workers decided that our vacation should be extended.

Greve is French for: you’re going to be incredibly inconvenienced by one or many disgruntled French person(s) today. That Monday, the French RER workers declared a Greve. We didn’t think it would be too bad, so Garcon and Centieme joined Abbey and I at the Mickeymouse metro to await a train to take us in to Paris. It was cold. It was windy. The Mickeymouse metro station is outside. (Bron)chite.

We waited for thirty minutes. We found seats. We waited for an hour. I gave Abbey my scarf (aren’t I a gentleman?). We waited 90 minutes. Garcon and Centieme went to lunch and told us to have a nice day in Paris and they would see us tomorrow. We waited two hours. Abbey and I did some math.

One out of five RER trains goes all the way out to the cold, unwelcoming, miserable Mickeymouse metro. Due to the French train/metro workers’ propensity to indulge in the frequent greve (the GM of the marriot put it best: “the French punish their government by punishing their neighbors”) it is required that SOME trains be running. This particular greve closed 9 out of 10 trains on this particular track. If 1 out of 10 trains is running and 1 out of 5 NORMALLY go all the way to Mickeymouse metro…Garcon and Centieme were quite surprised to see Abbey and I in their hotel room after their lunch – the lady at the front desk graciously gave us a key. Centieme and Garcon had enjoyed some wine at lunch and, by their account, communicated through grunts and hand gestures with their non-english speaking waiter. That night we watched one of the worst movies that I have ever seen called “A Mother’s Promise.” Please keep in mind that, in no particular order, my top five favorite movies are Cable Guy, Moulin Rouge, American Beauty, Drop Dead Fred, and Time Bandits. I emailed my professors – one of whom was thoroughly amused and the other of which told me “you are far too old to be spending that much time with a giant mouse” (I really do miss that professor) – letting them know that I would be missing class (for the first and only time that semester, mind you) and Garcon and I enjoyed a night of free wine courtesy of the Marriot while Abbey and Centieme shopped.

It’s four months later and I am still bitter about that particular greve.

On the plus side, it is the Chinese Year of the Tiger (fairly well-timed public apology, I must say) so there was a giant parade in Chinatown – the route of which happened to be a lap around our apartment. There were dragons, creepy-masked children (or little people), teenagers dressed up standing on top of floats but acting as though nothing was going on in order to maintain an outward appearance of flippancy that is all the rage these days, and people banging on drums. We met up with some friends, watched the parade, had silly string and confetti thrown upon us, ate Chinese food, and had a very pleasant afternoon. Then I came home and typed up 10 pages of notes and read two articles. Speaking of which, it is midterm week, so I must go read some more, go to bed, wake up, and lock myself in renowned, resplendent AUP library for the duration of the day.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Another Nudge

I have no idea who reads this blog…for that matter I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of this blog is – self-deprecating humor, amusing renditions of daily observations, some earnest reflections on social norms challenged by a new context, my awesome new purse, financial advising...I lost you there, didn't I? We’re all familiar with my clever poo jokes, amusing musings regarding metro stink, and my pitiful inability to purchase produce, use doors/light switches properly, speak French, walk and chew gum at the same time, etc. Why then would anyone come to this blog seeking advice regarding how to spend their money?

They don’t.

I did once, though, point readers toward the site of a young man who is trying to run a marathon and raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (and I hypothesized that he made up a friend and wouldn’t end up running the race and everyone would get their money back anyway (see here to catch up on Paul’s poor wittle knee and all the big mean snow that’s preventing him from running and here to read about Paul's charitable endeavor))

So now, I bring you a similar post – attempting to alert whoever may read this blog of a good cause and, occasionally, a good read. There is a blog called “The Church is Alive” (I’ll spare you the Frankenstein joke that I think is funny but you will probably roll your eyes at). You can access the blog here to read some of the Five Blog Administrators' reflections on the state of the contemporary church from their own perspective or from the perspectives of any of the guest bloggers that contribute to the site fairly regularly. I think the blog tends to be updated more than mine because, well, there are five of them plus guests and I’m hopelessly outnumbered…but I digress.

As many may or may not know, it’s the season of lent, when many christians give up potato chips or soda to remember all that jesus sacrificed for them (Warning: that statement was not entirely true nor theologically accurate though it was grossly oversimplified and is yet another statement in a string of probable failed attempts at humor otherwise known as this blog). The CIA, however, would like for you to think about adding something to rather than subtracting something from your lives this Lenten season.

What?

No, not that CIA, the Church is Alive group blog thing I talked about a minute ago, I thought CIA would be easier to remember.

The CIA has “launched a water project” for lent which you can read about in this post. The short summary is that they have set up a donations page here to raise funds in order to build a well somewhere in need of clean drinking water. So consider this a nudge in the direction of the CIA’s website and an encouragement to support their water project. I’m sure the CIA would appreciate your support - even if you are wholly indifferent to the current christian liturgical season and are unrepentantly enjoying soda and chips as you read.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Incident

Paris Tommy is just like American Tommy. He puts his hot pink long underwear on one leg at a time, puts on his rather tight jeans on top of said pink long johns one leg at a time, throws some product in his hair after donning his tight French sweater, and nonchalantly tosses a purse over his shoulder on the way out the door. On second thought, American Tommy is probably somewhere laughing at Paris Tommy, calling him effeminate and making jokes about the rigidity with which he may carry his wrists. I’ve come to terms with this, though, despite my original discomfort with the tight jeans and sweaters, they have gotten more comfortable and I have become quite a fan of carrying my purse (I upgraded purses a few weeks ago to this snazzy black purse [see below (parenthesis inside brackets inside parenthesis again!)] that is the ideal size for a small notebook, a book, plus all of the former inhabitants of my pockets – wallet, keys, change, metro card, etc.) and my hot pink long johns have aided my survival in the windy, rainy Parisian wintry wonderland. This systematic acclimatization to new social norms and the gradual abandoning of any concern for my “masculinity” proved fortunate given yesterday’s incident in the metro.

I hugged a stranger. It was an accident. It was mildly awkward. I’m not talking about a greeting or anything, I hugged the guy’s back. It all happened so fast, before I knew it my arms were wrapped entirely around this poor 65ish year old innocent bystander and my face was momentarily nestled in the middle of his upper back. It was brief, the man pretended not to notice, and several stops later we parted ways, him probably never to speak of the incident again and me to…well…share the encounter with the world wide web. How did this happen, you may ask?

Well, you see, I hypothesize that our metro conductor had consumed the better half of a bottle of vin rouge that morning for breakfast and was accelerating and braking at random intervals throughout our commute. Additionally, the car was packed as it tends to be whenever I am in a hurry. In my attempts to avoid landing on people during the driver’s frequent and abrupt changes in pace I was holding on to the pole in the middle of the car for dear life. Enter the man who would soon be hugged.

The man entered the car as the leader of a pack of roughly 40 people who all intended to share the same cubic foot of space available in the car. The man was shoved between myself and the pole in the space formerly occupied by my left arm. With his navel touching the pole my arm became bent and I began to lose my grip on the pole, necessitating that I change hands. Fearing a loss of balance due to our erratic driver, I did not want to let go of the pole with one hand before I had my other hand secured around it. Mind you, I did not consider the fact that the arm grasping the pole was also wrapped a little more than halfway around this rather large gentleman and that I would have to wrap my other arm around the remainder of his person in order to grasp the bar by way of his other side. Before I realized it, I was hugging him. I quickly grabbed the bar, released my left hand and was no longer hugging a stranger. I then forgot about the incident and went about my day, until I realized at lunch that I had actually hugged a stranger and that neither he nor I seemed the least bit fazed by it. It’s not like he tried to snatch my purse.

thanks for reading



Old Purse (left/gauche) and Snazzy New Purse (right/droite)