dimanche 30 janvier 2011

January still



I've been back from Paris for a week and a day now. My jet lag is gone, but January is still here. I took Neko for a brisk walk today, and boy was it brisk.

This is a photo of one of my few but -- I think -- well chosen purchases in Paris. It's the Caroline bag by Lili Cabas. Great bags, great prices. I wanted a red bag; I don't know why. This one is cool and I love the vertical silver lines. Plus, I didn't pay a fortune for it. I found it in a small, funky shop near my apartment. The main Lili Cabas store is in the 10th, on Rue des Petites Ecuries. So forget Lancel and the Champs-Elysées.

I took my Seattle friend to Lancel because she was intent on buying a bag from there on sale. The bag she bought was not on sale, and it was expensive. The store was overheated, made worse by the intense lighting on the upper floor. It was like being in an oven, with an extremely tenacious Franco-asian saleswoman following my friend everywhere. That bugs me about the Lancel shop at the top of the Champs. They have a better selection than the Rond Point store, but boy are they clingy.

At the same time, I understand that they don't want people pawing their pretty things. The saleswoman at the Rond Point store tried to do a little pre-sales wheeling and dealing, but it did not work on my friend. I saw a lot of pre-sales W&D going on. It felt a bit like living near Place de Cliché, as I did for a few years. At all times of day, the racoleurs would be out on the sidewalk soliciting passers-by. On the night before the sales officially began, lots of stores in the Marais were open. As I walked past, stopping to look in the windows, people would come out of nowhere and offer me special, illegal deals. Tonight only, cash only. Not interested.

mardi 25 janvier 2011

Modest proposals

Since I became a university student again, I have gotten tons of "proposals", most of them blocked by my spam filter. None of them have anything to do with marriage, which is probably a good thing because I am already married, and happily so, and polygamy is illegal. The "proposals" in question all concern making extra money as a student. They generally involve telemarketing and stuff.

The subjects of email proposals and polygamy are just pretexts to mention that my friend and waitress extraordinaire Nicole Hardy managed to get published in the NY Times and find an agent while I was away in France. I saw her just before I left, so I knew about the NY Times gig. The agent and the article by Nicole Brodeur of the Seattle Times came about while I was away.

Nicole (Hardy, not Brodeur) wrote a short autobiographical piece about the experience of being a practicing Mormon woman who wants love and marriage but not children and about the resulting experience of finding herself a virgin at 36. Now an agent wants her to write the rest of her story. Personally, my favorite part of Nicole's essay was the part about Planned Parenthood -- the disconnect between what she had learned to think of PP and how she felt being taken into care by PP. It was really poignant and made my eyes well up with tears.

I just now read Brodeur's article and started to read the 178 comments it generated. But I had to stop fairly quickly, because the religious nuts seem to have taken over the comments section. How boring. One comment really pissed me off. Here it is:

It's bad enought that Hardy sinned. That she disclosed it, even bragged about it is despicable. The she profited from it is evil.


The sin? I suppose for the commenter, it was losing her virginity outside of marriage.
She did indeed disclose it, in an indirect way. Her essay does not describe her "deflowering" or name names.
Bragged about it? Well, if she did not really talk about it, then how can she be accused of bragging about it?
Profited from it? By getting an agent? Are you kidding me? She's a writer with two published books of poetry to her credit.

Whatever. She's a hard-working and talented writer, a generous human being and a wonderful waitress. She wears great t-shirts, like the one that says "talk nerdy to me" on it. Words like despicable and evil are out of place. She did not start World War Three or gun down innocent bystanders. See for yourselves. Just click on the title and it will take you to her essay for Modern Love, which appeared on January 9, 2011 in the NY Times. She bared her soul and got $300 bucks for it.

Time management is the key, but what is the key to time management?

You know I don't make New Year's resolutions. It isn't that I feel I am not perfectible - au contraire! - but the word resolution brings to mind the image of a treadmill, one that you get on and then feel stuck on, watching the clock, wishing you were elsewhere.

Perhaps another reason I don't like making resolutions is that they seem part of the ceaseless quest for "self improvement", a peculiarly American malady. There is something dispiriting to me about the idea of self improvement. In my mind, it is linked to another peculiarly American malady: perpetual dissatisfaction.

I prefer the Emersonian notion of self reliance to the "Oprahesque" notion of self improvement. Emerson was an American, so why does self reliance seem to be so foreign in this country? I met a Frenchman once at a wedding; he was the husband of the sister of the groom. He basically told me that he thought Americans were the least self reliant people on the planet (he called us "un peuple d'assistés"). I thought he was full of shit at the time, but I have since come to see what he meant. I think he has a point. But never mind. Today's rant is about time management, something I am hopeless at.

So I don't make resolutions, but I have had an epiphany: time management is the key. The question, however, is this: what is the key to time management? I wish I knew. All the ideas that come to me sound repugnant: stuff like ruthless dedication to a schedule, obsession with control, constant motion, intricate planning, no tolerance for mishaps and serendipity. Maybe I have the wrong attitude.

I'm going to study the issue and get back to y'all. I'm going to see if there is any useful advice out there about time management. And I will admit that I would like to improve my time management skills. Maybe this year. Or maybe I'll put it off until next year, I don't know. Hmmm....I think I'll see what the WWW (world wide wisdom) is on the issue of time management. Is this just another self-deceiving ploy to postpone the huge job that is staring me in the face?

I have done some preliminary research and, as I suspected, list-making is a popular piece of advice. It is true that, when you have a list of short tasks to complete, lists can be helpful and even necessary. But what if your tasks are things like this?

1. Integrate all of the extensive revisions made to the French version of the 90-page book you just translated.

2. Find a workable topic for a 25-page paper, needed to get credit for the seminar you took in winter of 2010, find the right secondary materials and write the paper.

3. Do all of the bookkeeping that you masterfully avoided doing over the entire twelve months of the previous year ended (note to W: I am exaggerating!).

4. Finish reading A la recherche du temps perdu, a 3,000 page masterpiece that I have read about 500 pages of.

You get the point. Do I really need a list to remember that these things are hanging over my head at all times? When I look at these tasks and think about the number of hours needed to complete each one, I get dizzy and my jet lag asserts itself. Sleep, it says. Close your eyes. Put down the book. Look at Neko. She has solved the time management problem once and for all. Here she is, giving a public lecture on the subject to a rapt audience.

dimanche 23 janvier 2011

Jardin des Plantes

Casque obligatoire!



Initially, I thought I would write regular posts during my 2+ weeks in Paris. But the fact of the matter is twofold: I would rather be doing than writing about it and, more importantly, the "livebox" (wifi router) in the apartment I was staying in did not work. I tried without much enthusiasm to fix it. I did figure out that the 26-letter code I had been given was wrong. I figured this out by finally counting each individual digit one by one, which in fact is not that easy to do. There were 27 numbers and letters in my WEP key. I even figured out which was the letter "de trop" in the code I had been given. But even this genius technology intervention on my part did not do the trick. I quickly decided not to spend hours and hours on the problem and found a nearby café with free wifi instead. This actually solved several problems, like what to have for breakfast. For information, un grand crème, followed by un café allongé. The only downside to this arrangement was that I had to be in the café to connect, which in fact is not such a downside after all. I connected less with the wired world and a lot more with the real world. And how can that be bad?

Anyway, freed from the self-imposed obligation of posting, I was more observant of my world. The first thing I noticed was that if you want to be hip in Paris, and provided that you are between the ages of about 13 and 25, you have to be wearing super big, super visible headphones. The days of smaller and more discreet ones are over, at least for now. And the funny thing is, this look is hard to pull off if you are over 25. I saw many who tried and just as many who failed. They all managed only to look as if they were trying too damned hard to be hip.

I asked Julien, who is 19 and the son of a good friend, what was up with the big 'phones when I noticed he had one in his possession. He denied it was a fad and insisted he only owned them because they are practical. Fashion groupies always pretend to be oblivious to whatever trend they are slavishly following. I don't mean this as a criticism of Julien, who I suspect really gave it no thought. He just bought a set of big 'phones, like everyone else. The funny thing is, and it truly makes me laugh, is that on this basis I am way ahead of the pack. I started using big 'phones ages ago, simply because the little ones hurt my ears and never fit right. Plus, they make me feel like I could get a massive headache any time. I have never trusted tiny earphones. So I walk my dog on Alki daily, listening to podcasts through oversize 'phones. To all you suckers looking at me like I am some sort of throwback to the past, some kind of cave woman, all I can say is that you clearly haven't been to Paris lately.

I have to go now. Jet lag is taking over my brain.

samedi 1 janvier 2011

Best of 2010

It's over, 2010. So last year. 2011 is here and I am starting the year off right with a dinner composed of the best marinara sauce (sauce tomate) in the universe, made by the W.
We saw the year out properly too, with a Moroccan dinner inspired by Nawal, who was here from Paris via Fez last year but - alas! - not this year.

Three days later...

This was going to be my first day of the year post, but I got called away to eat that marinara sauce and then got involved in watching a movie "on demand". A very good movie on demand. One of the best of 2010, at least as far as I am concerned. It's called Please Give and stars Catherine Keener, one of the best actors around, as a guilty white liberal from the Upper West Side waiting for her bitchy elderly neighbor to die so that she and her husband can break down the wall separating their apartments and expand. The couple's day job is selling newly hip and hugely marked-up furniture from the past that they mainly purchase from the bereaved adult children of the kind of elderly people who live next door. Thematically, it reminded me of a largely overlooked novel by Nick Hornby from a few years back called How to be Good.
I recently mentioned True Grit, also a top movie pick for 2010, though it is not destined to be as underwatched as Please Give.

Did I see other movies in 2010? I went to SIFF, but all the films I saw, mostly French, were released in 2009. We liked Roman Polanski's The Ghostwriter, but I can't even remember if we saw it in 2010. Could have been 2009. I also liked a Claire Denis film I saw two weeks ago called White Material, which ran for a nanosecond at the Harvard Exit. Isabelle Huppert is always great as a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown. In fact, one of the best movies I revisited in 2010 was Claude Chabrol's La Cérémonie, starring Isabelle Huppert as a madwoman/postal worker who kills her baby and then, in an act of cold blood fueled by simmering class resentment, an entire family. Sounds grim, doesn't it? But actually, the movie is quite funny.

There were notable books in 2010 as well, though the only ones I read that were actually published in 2010 were Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, Just Kids by Patti Smith, and Angel Face, by Barbie Latza Nadeau, about University of Washington exchange student Amanda Knox, who was convicted in Italy in December of 2009 of participating in the murder of her then roommate, British Erasmus student Meredith Kercher. Knox and her erstwhile boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, are currently serving time while awaiting the outcome of their appeal, a process that is automatic in Italy. Unless you have been brainwashed by woefully biased coverage in the US, you probably know that the case against the pair (and the third accomplice, Rudy Guede, who has exhausted all appeals in Italy) is strong and was well-argued by the prosecution. Two forensic items (out of far more than that number) are being re-examined and a couple of new witnesses will be heard. The prosecution is asking for a stiffer sentence, as it feels the first court was too lenient in sentencing Knox to 26 years and Sollecito to 25.

2010 was also the year in which I got back into yoga for real. It started on my birthday, as a gift to myself, and now feels like something necessary and good.

And finally, 2010 was a year of graduate study in French at the University of Washington. One class at a time, since I also have a full-time job. I feel blessed to be doing this at my age. And I have a 4.0 GPA so far, with one incomplete. I hope to write a paper next summer to fulfill the requirement that will erase the incomplete.

On the work front, the impact of the global financial crisis on my profession, financial translation, has been significant and is probably permanent. There are fewer transactions; financial services firms, banks and start-ups are less willing to spend money on translations, etc. This is an endlessly repeated cycle, but this time around the trough is longer and deeper. No matter. I feel blessed to still have work with clients I have had the pleasure of knowing for more than a decade; I feel even more blessed that they decided to stay with me when I moved back to the US. Sometimes I get kind of cranky, like when I have to work on the weekend or late at night. But on the whole, I feel blessed because I am self-employed, which offers a tremendous amount of liberty and autonomy, and also because I do work that allows me to use a rare skill and more than 50% of my brain. Even at its most boring, repetitive and stressful, translation remains a challenge; and I still take genuine pride in the finished product.

I'm not really one to make New Year's resolutions. But maybe it would be fun to try.

To be continued...