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,

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)


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.