The First Agile Baby Step Is Inwards

When it comes to big new life changes, I am as guilty as anyone in my need for premature optimization, meaning my first instinct is to not start before all is ‘perfectly’ planned… sometimes so that I never actually start.

Paralyzed, I want to change in a big WATERFALL kind of way where everything is planned out and all items implemented at once.

But then I shake myself a little, say a few choice words in the mirror, and step forward in an agile, iterative, and most importantly, reflective way.

Because the first step is the most important.

Not HOW you do it. But JUST the fact you do it.

So, the first step for transforming your business towards agile is … ?

The same goes for transforming your business, project, team, etc. to begin using ‘agile’ methodologies. It is a big company culture change! You must resist implementing all at once. When I am ranting on about how much I adore agile, I am quite often asked :

Okay, but how do I implement it? Where to start?

There is a glimmer of fear in their eye as they reach for their coffee or beer (Yes, I ramble on about agile outside of work… often.)

CC Alvaro Perez
Copyright Alvaro Perez

This question is hard to answer without meeting the team and knowing the particular intricacies of the project and the overall production needs. In addition, it is best not to prescribe too much as it really depends on the team’s unique DNA and what THEY want to do first (Yay, autoorganization!)… as top down rarely works with these kinds of changes.

The first step I often recommend and one of the easiest to implement (once the team is convinced) is putting into place: “Retrospectives” or “Retros”.

What is a Retro?

A retrospective can take many forms and often should change and adapt with the team over time (if not to add some spice). The overall idea is the team gets together to reflect upon:

Since the last retro…

  1. What went well?
  2. What could improve?
  3. What are some solutions?

Then two or three of the solutions are collectively chosen and teammates volunteer to follow these points until next retrospective. After all, we can not change Rome in a day! Here are some ideas for retro formats.

How often and who?

Depends on your team! Typically retrospectives are at the end of the development cycle for development Scrum teams.  I suggest conducting retrospectives at least once a month for non-development teams, especially in the beginning.

Oh, that is right.  I suggest retrospectives on all levels. It is not just the developers that produce, so why not spend that valuable time improving on all levels?

You have multiple product owners? Do a scrum to scrum retrospective! Do a company wide one! Marketing team one! All levels will profit from regular introspection, though the time intervals and format will vary depending on the scope.

The key is though to not turn retrospectives into ‘diss’ fests against people or teams not present. This should be watched for and any point involving those not present should be noted and taken up in the next retrospective including them or by their manager in private. If it is solely a personal conflict then it is best discussed between the two people involved.

In addition, I am a big advocate for having mixed profiles in the retrospectives including managers. BUT it is important that the managers exercise listening and letting each person, especially those naturally timid, feel free and safe to express themselves.

Much like brainstorming sessions, the participants must freely be able to communicate their ideas and thoughts. Only later when you vote on the most important solution upon which to work , should there be a HEALTHY debate on the pertinence.

Here is the kicker: You have to actually do it for it to work

Now over the years of seeing various companies/projects/teams transition to agile, one of the biggest stifling factors has been cutting off open communication or not prioritizing it. For example: just filing away retros as “another meeting”. This I have found especially true for non-sprint organized teams.

Ug another meeting?
Ug another meeting? Meetings have been hated since well before 2016.

“Ahh… well I have so many meetings… so much to do. Do we REALLY have to have our retro? Didn’t we just have one? I would appreciate it if we could push it off… I have this [INSERT DEADLINE] coming up.”

Respond, “No, sorry. It is important.”

Hey, secretly, you may even want to cancel it! It takes time and energy to communicate openly and establish healthy channels to do so. But giving that loving push to yourself and others to keep to the retro routine is important.

Trust me; of all the times my teams have wanted to cancel the retrospective… Where people grumbled, “Well, what do we really have to say to each other? We talk a lot already.”… those OFTEN turn out to be the best retrospectives. People leave smiling and feeling loved because they took the time to improve themselves and their team, vent their frustrations and find solutions.

Pro tip: Bring candy. People love candy. Or ask people to volunteer taking turns cooking or purchasing food to bring. Food = love, commitment and yumminess. Plus, it gives the team a sense of ownership. They will want to be at that retro so that they did not bring food for nothing!

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Copyright Lottie

But why?

Well other than the free candy… In your agile transition or project life you may not always make the right decisions. The first steps may be off path, BUT if you bake in moments of reflection, you can easily fix these mis-steps and learn from them. Turn them into an investment and not a loss.

So no crazy long, overly optimized roadmap of how to transition to agile is necessary.

CC CP Ewing
Copyright CP Ewing

Just start by talking with each other.

Just take that first step and keep at it and the rest will eventually fall in line.

 

Being Prepared to be Unprepared and Joyeux Anniversaire à Nous en France

Look! I remember how to log into this blog! Which really calls more into question my password changing practices and not so much my memory…

So here I am a couple days after our anniversary of arriving in Paris… which let’s have a quick update and reflection:

Paris Season… 5ish…

So since last post:

  • Bought an apartment
That a big key!
That a big key!

I know other things have happened but seriously dudes that made my… year… decade… life.  Super happy in our own chez-nous in Paris. I keep thinking we will regret it when our loan payments come out each month but then. I just. don’t. Because it is friggin’ awesome.

17IMG_0627

Anyway this takes a lot of effort and much of our life has been a bit saturated with home-needs. We started looking last February, our offer was accepted last April, everything was official in September and we have been living here since October.  Since then lots of home projects which eventually I may share with you kind internet blog black-hole.

Other newssss:

  • Still at the same job! I speaka the French every day! And I am now moving into a new position. 😀 In the last year the product I work on has launched in France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and Austria! In addition, we have released a major project which was a collaboration with the Irish team. And soon we launch in the UK and Ireland. Boy this past year at work has been… eventful and unbelievable! Lots of stress and responsibility but very rewarding and I have gotten to travel a bit with the job and work with other nationalities which is my favorite part.
  • All our siblings are married off! Which meant 3 trips to the US in the last year.
  • Still teaching dance on the side but not dancing as much as we would like
  • Returning back to Yoga thanks to the awesome Affordable Yoga Fitness.
  • Still loving France
  • Learned how to roll sushi.
  • Family came to visit and we have spent quite a bit of time in Loire lately.  And look forward to more family and Loire in the future! Life is good.
  • Plotting my next adventures thinking to take some time in Spain as I take back up Spanish (because I am loca) and Asia (I know big… but I am open)

Moral of the Story: Being an Expat = Prepare to Not be Prepared (AKA Adultness)

I will not bore you more with my Sheila News of the Year but leave you with a tidbit of reflection (still a high chance of boredom could arise).

Easy for you to say… you are a lion

Being an expat/transplant/immigrant (because let’s get real ‘expat’ is just a white privilege fancy word for immigrant) has ‘gotten easier’ as in I am now used to not being used to things.

Moving to a new country, is relearning everything (when perhaps you had not already figured everything else out in your old country) instead now you must do it again in 1 or 2 years rather than 18.

Imagine:

  • Registering/applying so you may be allowed to live there and work (a bit of the expat birth)
  • learning to speak (in the case of moving to a country with a new language)
  • learning about doctors, police, laws, social rules, where to buy random things that before never were a question like… the metal thing you put in your drain to catch stuff or Birthday cards
  • obtaining your driver’s license
  • Social Security subscription
  • Translation of all documents: marriage and birth certificates to prove you exist
  • Asking yourself questions you never thought you would have to like: ‘Will I be socially shunned if I slice the cheese in this fashion?’
    • The answer is Yes.

Now add a layer of figuring out HOW and WHERE to do the above with the vocabulary of a 2 year old.

This face a lot. Photo by Marilyn Suarez of ME!
This face a lot. Photo by Marilyn Suarez of ME!

I have not learned just how to ‘to be French’ but I have learned HOW to learn.

So I advise you several things:

  • Get used to it… the sooner you accept things will be hard and learn adapting/problem solving skills the better.
  • I know you love your expat friends and they are a great comfort and resource as they know and have done what you have done, but also meet locals! Really just meet as many people as possible. They add to your experience and comfort the blow.

Now on year 4 starting… things feel easier but then BAM! New life experience demands awkwardness/growth (now things that I have never done even back in the US that are just adult responsibility evolutions).  Like filing taxes as a home owner!

Expat Pokemon Evolve! photo thanks to http://blip.tv/gameexchange/the-pokemon-x-and-y-french-connection-game-exchange-6700852
Expat Pokemon Evolve!
photo thanks to http://blip.tv/gameexchange/the-pokemon-x-and-y-french-connection-game-exchange-6700852

And then suddenly Expatness feels a little less a state only for us sorry/masochist types that have immigrated more like just like…

Adult Life

– S

 

 

Finding yourself after Finding Yourself + A Life Update

Life Update

So my life has gone through… changes.  Where am I now, almost a year ago since the last post?

meandaug
On a recent trip to Amsterdam – Photo by Marilyn Suarez
  1. Got a new job nine months ago!  At a French company!  In French!  So my French speaking abilities have gone from “poor” to “workable but still shameful”. ;p  Seriously though it is going very well.  Another new intense challenge but worth it.
  2. Everyone in my family ever is getting married.  Which is awesome.  And that means trips back to the US to see them.  We have another this coming October!
  3. I am in the process of finalizing the buying of an apartment. *fingers crossed*.

Honestly, with how stressful and insecure things were for us for so long in France (whether I shared them on the internetz or not) I was not sure I would ever find this stability again.  And WHAM now after a lot of hard work I am on stable ground. *touch wood – as they say here*

 

Selfie after my last Visa Renewal.  Eiffel Tower in the back, if you squint.
Selfie after my last Visa Renewal. Eiffel Tower in the back, if you squint.

And I am happy.  Obviously we are also planning on sticking around for the long run.

Next Steps – Refinding Yourself

When you move to a foreign country (or anywhere) to find yourself, often you find yourself… in respect to your native country.

Self Questioning as an Expat

For at least the first two to three years you have one line of questioning…

How does this new experience compare to my previous in your old country?  And how should you react?

This post needs more photos, so there you go. Photo by Marilyn Suarez
This post needs more photos, so there you go, me and my husband on a train.
Photo by Marilyn Suarez

You are not finding yourself, but finding who you are as an expat from your native country and who you should be in your new country.  You become a walking stereotype and diplomat.

Then you either go home, move on to a new country or stay.

Moving on to the root question, “Who are you?”

if you stay, it is at this point (which you will reach at least by the 3 year mark as we all know Love Only Lasts 3 Years), where you start to sift through all the noise, stereotypes and confusion to figure out who YOU are and not who your country is (the new or native).

I am there now.

I love my life, my friends, my city and still appreciate my roots.  But I have taken on too much and I also have taken on too much the persona of an ‘Expat’.  Which was useful and necessary for the original transition but now is old and tired.

Photo by Corey Maynard
Photo by Corey Maynard

While being a transplant will ALWAYS affect me.  I do not want that to be me.  When I am introduced I do not want to be, ‘Sheila the American who lives in Paris’.

I want to be ‘Sheila the mobile application designer’ or ‘Dancer’ or ‘Poet’ or ‘Lover of fine cheeses’ or ‘Life Long Learner’. Or whatever I find to be my true focus. It could even be ‘Sheila the woman that loves Paris’

It is not a shedding of my national identity because I am ashamed, it is just not hiding behind it.

Plus it’s too easy

To say… I reason like this because I am American.  Yes, I am sure that is true to an extent.

But why?  Not all Americans think the same.  So why in particular do I reason like this?

Because I am me.

But who am I?

Photo by Marilyn Suarez
Photo by Marilyn Suarez

And that is nothing an astonishing view of the Eiffel Tower or a buttery croissant can tell you.  Unless you find time to self reflect while enjoying them.

– S

Author’s Note:  It may seem contradictory to post this sort of post on an Expat Blog. And you are probably right.

Paris Tips – Internet Access – Free and Not – For unfortunate souls like me

So… in the nonstop sitcom that is my life (minus the laugh track and the ability to change the channel quickly) I currently am with out electricity at home for an extended period of time. This means no internet as well. Which is definitely not the first time I have encountered a long period of no internet since moving here due to my many apartment moves.

But you get to profit from these experiences with my list of suggestions for: If you are traveling in Paris or live in Paris and need that sweet sweet internets.

Free Internet in Paris

That’s a keyword phrase for ya!

Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.
Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.
  1. Libraries – You do not have to be a resident to enjoy the perks of libraries. Not only can you get a library card without live in Paris but also there is free good internet access, desks, serenity, power outlets and the ability to brag you were in the library all day. If possible, always check the opening hours as they can vary (usually closed sundays and mondays and open afternoons only during the summer).
    Library Locations (in French)
  2. Parks and other Public Places- You heard it. Free wifi in the what seems to be most the public parks in Paris plus some other spots. No power outlets but lots of basking in the grass like a vrai Parisian.
    – Parks such as: Buttes Chaumont, Parc de Belleville and Tour de Saint Jacques – Full Park Listing Here (in French)
    – Listing of all Free Wifi Spots and Instructions thanks to the Marie Here (English)
  3. McDonalds – Okay, not free as you SHOULD purchase something but you can always sneak in there and show it to the man if need be. I hate to admit it but McDonalds has saved my life as a traveler several times.  Toilets, food, cheap coffee (actually not too bad espresso in Paris), a rare power outlet and internet is nice.
  4. Apple Stores – Rumor has it offer free internet and computer use… if you can squeeze your way into one.  They are always crowded so no porn perusing!

Free (with purchase) Internet in Paris

Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.
Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.
  1. Some Cafés – You gotta keep an eye out but some cafés and brassieries advertise free wifi (usually posted on a small sticker on their door) like my favorite café L’Assassin in the 11ème. Be sure to buy something though! Also power outlets will not always be available.  If you are only going to buy a drink, be sure not to sit at a table with dish settings as to not raise their ire. The best perk if you come there enough you may reach the coveted “regular” status.
  2. Starbucks – Depending on the branch, you need to use a code on your receipt to activate an hour or more internet use.  Power outlets sometimes are available. While not as common as in the US, you also can find Starbucks in Paris, mostly in the center of the city a.k.a. the business arrondissements/quarters.
  3. FreeWifi and Other Citywide Wifi Telecom Providers – FreeWifi is not free. It is woefully/trick-fully the name of a company. You in fact need to have an account or a very nice friend with an account, BUT if you can score one, these providers do give city/country wide wireless codes with most telecom accounts. Let’s say you actually live in Paris but are awaiting or internet carrier to hook things up, ask them what your citywide Wifi login details are to get a jump on things.  In fact that is how I am typing/saving this article. right. now.
    You can also connect to their services “SFR”, “Orange”, “FreeWifi”, etc and see if you have the ability to buy a day pass.
  4. Internet Cafés – All around the city you can find internet cafés with computer/internet booths, usually indicated by a neon glowing @. In addition there is the chain called Mlik which is open 24/7. These places are also useful if you need to print, fax, scan something (paperworrrrkkkk?) or call someone. I tend to price shop (walk and look at the menus of several I pass) before I decide who to patronize as prices will vary.
  5. Coffee Shops with Work Stations or Internet Access – I do not know many but I do see them starting to pop up, like Craft.  There is sometimes a minimum order or fee, such as, 9EUR at Craft.
  6. Coworking Spaces  – Coworking spaces or labs are where you can collaborate with other professionals or work on your own personal projects privately at a big person desk or on a cool person comfy couch.  They include places like Super Belleville, La Mutinerie and La Tank,  La Cantina and La Rouche. Some do require a pre-application or monthly signup.  While others you can rent hourly or use the space for free during certain periods and networking events.
    – You can find a list of coworking spaces on the TechList for Paris – here.
Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.
Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.

Rewind a bit… why does Sheila have no electricity?

Even this little dog has internet - Paris Subway Add
Even this little dog has internet and electricity – Paris Subway Ad

So in my recent move to a new apartment I messed up in signing up for electricity. They shut it off August 1st… and the first appointment we could make because our neighborhood/arrondisement’s office is on vacation is August 16th. No joke. August in Paris is the worse.

Let’s take this as a learning lesson. When you move into an apartment you have two months to change it to your name after the old tenant has cancelled it and be sure to VALIDATE our contract.  I messed up the steps and did not reply to a text that was sent to me to validate the contract (EDF is the carrier), hence the shut off.

C’est la vie. – S

Now where were we? – Paris Life – Season 4?

[Insert another Blog start opening blurb]

Introducing my newly branded (rough-draft) and moved expat blog (albeit in potentially perpetual beta mode). Really only the logo design is done. ;p

oooo look at that logo
Translation: American Flowers in Paris

First you must know that the Learning Machine, still exists but will be solely be professional or nontravel/expat ramblings. While this new little niche shall be my hide out for all the things I find fit to share in my growth as an American abroad in Paris.

While I have not been writing here for months now… I have been digesting and figuring out life in Paris.  It has been a labor of love which I am becoming ready to share.  So we will see how these little writings will make their debut to the world and how often.  But we might as well get started.

Carpé journée.

Life Update

Now where were we? Season 3, looking back at the archive.  I have now been amid what I would consider Season 4 for quite a while.

Austin is in a new job.  We have moved at least two times since last time I wrote, now living in upper 11th of Paris or lower Belleville neighborhood.  We were able to take our first real vacations in years, traveling to the Mediterranean and Sweden.

Stockholm was pretty - August 2013
Stockholm was pretty – August 2013

I took a professional pause to work on my French and some personal projects (including a non-profit dance exchange in Paris which welcomed over 200 dancers from around the world). And now I am back on the “find a job I can be passionate about (preferably in French)” train. Going well despite I decided to board this train in the summer time a.k.a. unemployed deadman’s land.

Still I am optimistic and have been talking with a couple exciting companies that hopefully I will get to announce in the coming months once the living return to Paris.

Overall life as an expat (especially in the last month) has semi-smoothed out, especially due to my gained proficiency in French, seeking stability and simplifying my commitments.

And of course we love Paris more than ever.

Napoleon graffiti agrees (spotted in Paris)
Napoleon graffiti agrees (spotted in Paris)

Though we have not had electricity for the past week and a half… but that is a post for another time.

After School Special

What have I learned so far this Season? Let’s make this semi-educational.

EXPAT LIFE LESSON #121: Hey man, you are already an expat… do not take on the rest of the world as well.

Not a fancy picture but a genuine one. Taken when we decided one night to take a break, picnic on the Seine overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and take a moment to appreciate what we have and why we work so hard to keep it.
Not a fancy picture but a genuine one. Taken when we decided one night to take a break, picnic on the Seine overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and take a moment to appreciate what we have and why we work so hard to keep it.

Simplify, delve into your new life and concentrate on some (read: not all) positive and productive activities!

Because this is not your past life, you have a new obligatory hobby: Figuring out a new culture, language and way of life.

Until the next post – S

 

 

Ode to My Husband – Love Nest Abroad and Some Fish

Love Expats Style

Some might say that moving aboard can be the worse thing you can do for your relationship.  Or really any major move or life change is tough in a four-legged race… let’s be fair.

For me it has been the best thing I could have done.  As I now appreciate my husband more than I could ever express in a silly little blog rambling.  I am learning to trust in him, see him for the man he is and not take him for granted, not even for one second.

I am so ever grateful that I made this move with Austin.  He is my constant (Lost style ;p).  Life abroad is not all travel, cheese and ease.  I have my down moments of self doubt where I cannot tell the paperwork from the oak trees.  But he always seems to find me no matter how low I get.

301795_10150908522578286_923767118_n
Harry and Sally Meets Good Wine

We had worked together before but moving to a 27 square meter apartment, working at the same long hour jobs (two now), teaching dance together (in french) and relearning to how to live (french style) definitely has been a challenge.

294734_10100565175605402_6778280_n
Our first real apartment in Paris.

I have now reached the point where I see my fellow expats leave, those that came around the time we came (my “expat class” as I call it).  It is sad though we all have our reasons.  Some came planning only to stay a couple months.  Some have found better opportunities. Some just do not like it. And Paris is definitely not a city to stick with if it is not the right fit.  I am not too sure I would still be here if I did not have Austin. (And a few dozen friendly french strangers and friends a like).

Had to keep your head low in our little studio.
Had to keep your head low in our little studio.

We definitely have progressed greatly since our arrival in Paris, in our temporary 17 square meter apartment or when the machine ate my credit card on the first day.  We have progressed enough so that I can fondly look back at some of our earlier now-funny struggles.  I will not say we have stability now but we are gaining comfortability… and we have come a long way.

And I am glad this has been a partner marathon.

Thanks

Austin and I moved to France 6 months into our marriage and 5.5 years into our relationship.  For those who know our wedding date (the binary for 42), you know we love Douglas Adams and our wedding abounded in references to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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Shot near Notre Dame from our honeymoon visit to Paris. Where we continued to fall in love with each other and this city.

Today I stumbled upon a reading that I had to share and my relation to it.  It is a mix between how I felt: the first time we kissed, at our wedding and during our first year in Paris (in the apartment where you could barely swing a cat).

Enjoy and Thanks Austin.

From Douglas Adams’ “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish”

There was a sort of gallery structure in the roof space which held a bed and also a bathroom which, Fenchurch explained, you could actually swing a cat in, “But,” she added, “only if it was a reasonably patient cat and didn’t mind a few nasty cracks about the head. So. Here you are.”

“Yes.”

They looked at each other for a moment.

The moment became a longer moment, and suddenly it was a very long moment, so long one could hardly tell where all the time was coming from.

For Arthur, who could usually contrive to feel self-conscious if left alone long enough with a Swiss cheese plant, the moment was one of sustained revelation. He felt on the sudden like a cramped and zoo-born animal who wakes one morning to find the door of his cage hanging quietly open and the savanna stretching gray and pink to the distant rising sun, while all around new sounds are waking.

He wondered what the new sounds were as he gazed at her openly wondering face and her eyes that smiled with a shared surprise.

He hadn’t realized that life speaks with a voice to you, a voice that brings you answers to the questions you continually ask of it, had never consciously detected it or recognized its tones until it now said something it had never said to him before, which was,

“yes.”

– S

And Meow For Something Completely Different

First Watch This

Done?  Okay good… Now read this.

Bask in the glory that is a video of a cat meowing the theme of a popular tv about dragons and stuff.

Now bask in the fact that you have this opportunity at all… the internet (for those lucky enough to enjoy it) is the pinnacle of luxery and awesomeness.  And basically free vs the amount we pay and what we gain from it (though some would argue hours of funny animal videos on demand has no intrinsic value).

Still we do important stuff on there as well… like further technology, humankind and stuff.

It is an invisible omnipresent “box” of awesome.

What would Maud think?

I sometimes wonder what a person from the middle ages would think about the internet… Let alone just as far back as my late grandfather Dido.

“You mean you spend hours on a magical box which has the power to calculate the meaning of life ? But is used mostly for living pictures of cats meowing songs from another magical box called a TV (and naked pictures)?  

Now excuse me, I need to go survive the bubonic plague…”

What will I think?

What further farcical inventions will our children invent? Can’t wait…

I took the liberty of illustrating the future for you… You are welcome. Introducing “Meow-wavesTM”

“You mean a tentacle that you suck onto your left elbow which transfers smells to your shoulder (how we will smell in the future) so that you may fully enjoy the gelatinous laser cats puppetshow (and naked pictures)?

Now excuse me, I need to go survive the NEObubonic plague…”

Excellent – S

P.S.

Also required/related watching (unless you hate swearing or are at work). Love Louis CK.

The relaxation amongst the nonrelaxation and a typical French dinner

A quick update

The last four months have been hectic stressful to put it mildly.  I must say the 2nd year is proving to be harder than the first, luckily I feel we are emerging from the worse of it. Or as Austin and I joke… “Presque y la ‘.  Almost there…  (That is the joke. Also that is improper French…)

 

Almost there… this time.

 

Now as the smoke clears so does my vision and I realize I am stronger and more resistant than ever (like a flu strain ;p).  The first year it was a funny dream not a reality.  Second year you realize the work you really have to establish yourself.  And you get to it! Though sometimes round about…

We are more in love with this city than ever and determined to make it work.  Our french has drastically improved.  And so has life. 🙂

The importance of just sitting

So part of what I have learned in my time in Europe…

Learning to just sit… and relax… quality time.   Sure during the day all is crazy and chaos. But especially at night I have spent more hours than ever in my life around a table… drinking, laughing, talking, eating and eating some more. No TV, no computer, just each other.

Tartiflette… this be mountain food

Especially in Paris, the café culture of sitting on a terrasse (café patio) and philosophizing with an apèro (pre drink) is amazing, though not always great on the wallet. ;p  Luckily “happy-hour” borrowing from the english term is also popular.

Or in the case of summer time: “pique-nique” and laughter on a bridge, along the seine, in the park.

Picnic on the Seine
Paris Shoreside à la Seine with a good friend and one legged man

This is where relationships are formed, movements made (impressionism for example) and smoking habits are procured!  Plus, odds are it’s a bit too tiny in your apartment for guests… In a way this is the Parisian form of the American sitting on your porch with a beer, chewing the fat and watching the grass grow (if we had a porch or grass).

The Average French Diner

Is long.

I have gotten used to scheduling at least an hour and a half for dinner, but have surpassed this up to three plus drinks.  This is something that I got so used to that upon returning to the US, I was stressing over having a 1 hour dinner with friends before an event as I thought it just wouldn’t be long enough.

  1. Apèros – a Kir (sweet wine), a martini rouge, a small beer or perhaps a Ricard (licorice old man drink).  Sometimes drinks come with some olives or peanuts so you don’t pass out.
  2. Ordering – Order all in one go (barring digestif and dessert).  Most places offer a formule or formula where you get a better price on the culinary gauntlet you are about to run. At this point you order a carafe or bottle of wine.
  3. Entrées – A small dish such as a hard boiled egg and mayo, some paté with bread or escargots
  4. Plats – Main dish usually soaked in butter plus some raw protein
    Austin ready to eat a whole lot of cheese… This is Raclette a main dish from the mountainous regions. Yes, that is a big melting slab of cheese.

    Yes… he and our friend whimped out at the end. But still… he ate his head’s weight’s worth.
  5. Cheese platter? – It could happen.  Cheese is for afterwards to nibble on.  Just be sure to cut the cheese correctly and respect the rind to cheese ratio!
  6. Digestif – a shot of liquor or coffee.. or both

    Digestif after math
    Digestif aftermath
  7. Dessert – Usually combined with the last step
Follow up drinks are possible… See a pattern here?
Aftermath from one of my favorite French family dinners I had.

Dinners in Italy can be even longer…

I am not the best but getting better

I can’t say that I am the best at relaxing… A constant planner with wheels always turning am I!

But with the help of long dinners and new found friends I am learning to sit back and laugh at the day.

And this is the essence of Expat-hood.  

No one country or person has it all figured out.  But often it takes a move and a new perspective to really learn more about yourself, where you come from and where you are setting out next to explore (because seriously who actually knows where they are going?)

To the moon next! Or Mars… In Vars Summer 2012

Strong Better Slower Frencher – S

[REVIEW] Cosmopolis – Digested and Respected

And now a review of Cosmopolis because a status on my Facebook was not enough…

I have been watching a lot of movies lately thanks to my handy dandy UGC card. And afterwards I have been reviewing them very briefly on my facebook wall (I am lame). I tried that with David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis… but it was just too difficult. So much to say… It’s that kind of movie.

I honestly am not very well versed in David Cronenberg’s style/movies as I am pretty sure this is the first one I have seen. So this perhaps will be a useful to other Cronenberg philistines like me.

Enough of that… Quick! Plot Synopsis! Go!

Eric Parker (Robert Pattinson) is a young billionaire tech/financial/genius guy. It’s not a very good day for him as his life spirals out of control.

The movie is artfully and of course purposefully, based primarily in Parker’s limo.  He is among but withdrawn from the people, sealed off with cork so that he does not hear the outside world… much. Parker meets with the people in his life as he slowly is driven to go get a hair cut.

Also, it is a commentary on Capitalism.

Weird huh?  It is.

See it!  Or not…

Cosmopolis is a mind meld or a mind “f***” to be crude about it. As I am told it is typical Cronenberg style, as the king of venereal horror (fancy talk for body/mind horror).

Cosmopolis is not a normal “enjoyable” movie, though you may find it enjoyable.  The trailer will trick the masses into seeing it (as it makes it out to be some cool action/NINesque music video flick) but the masses will not enjoy it.

Even in France, a nation known for dry drawn out movies and polite patient audiences, there was a mass exodus in 15 minute intervals. At least 10% of the people left.

But even if you do not enjoy it… I argue you should respect it.  It is an exercise of the mind. Something not so enjoyable for those who went to the movies for escape (after all we have plays and books for thinking!)

In fact, it feels very much like an esoteric play, especially given the style of acting which is wooden like a poorly rehearsed play.  But I can only assume Cronenberg wanted this from his actors.

Very dry. Very disconnected. At first very alientating… but in the end perfect for the reality of the film.  Because that is what it is… disconnected “slice” (I cringe to say that cliché) of realities on either ends of the economic scale.

How to enjoy this film

You will hate this movie until you accept its weirdness.  Like the main character Parker, you must observe the passing world.

And afterwards you may find yourself needing to “digest” the film. Austin and I walked home instead of biked just so we could discuss it.

Digest it, think about it afterwards, bring a friend so you may discuss it later: but during it, just hang on to each word and observe.

The acting… did Pattinson sparkle?

Robert Pattinson… was really good in it, or maybe the “plasticness” of the acting style necessary for this movie fit his style of acting. Actually though it made me want to check out his following flicks.

I must say I found myself impressed with his bed eye acting style (well really… perhaps “romanced by it” is a better turn of phrase).  I understand why the girls swoon.  He has sexual magnetism even when getting an anal check up (pretty good scene actually!) or hugging a big burly black man.

On other actors not named Pattison

Some really grade A acting overall: intense and funny at parts.

You get to know the characters in passing… there is little to no explaination and you may fall behind if you do not pay attention to the nuances of each line… it really is a quite unforgiving film.

You may not even realize who the characters are until well after they are off screen.

But still the characters, each basically in their own strange vignette as they come into contact with the main character, are interesting and on the whole very well acted.

I especially enjoyed Paul Giamatti‘s (though usually he is not my style) and Samantha Morton‘s performances.

[ELITISM ALERT] And another thing…

After reading some reviews… this is going to sound really bad. But if you think this movie is poorly constructed, its probably because you didn’t understand it… And this probably threatened you.

You don’t have to love or even enjoy this movie but you should respect it.

So in the end?

I have convinced myself the more I think about it… I really enjoyed the mental exercise that is Cosmopolis.

I dare you to try it – S

“Paris, Mon Amour” – A Poem about the Paris Love Affair

So come Christmas I started a poem and today I dragged it back out and finished it.

I started it in one of my many moments of being struck by the beauty but the struggle (emotionally, financially, etc) within Paris that people experience as the make their place here.

Paris is that city/that relationship that you hate to part with.  With all its beauty and grandeur, there is raw grittiness to it that can be harsh. As like any big city you want to make it in, I suppose, just with thousands of years of love, life and art behind it.

Austin and I are epic-ly lucky and not on the streets.  But there are many here that live on the beautiful streets of the most romantic city in the world.

Honestly this is just a poem about love and life.  And what we put up with to be where we need to be.

——————————————————————–

Paris, Mon Amour

J'adore Paris

Paris, Mon Amour
My mistress and my wife
My dirty little secret
I cannot afford, so keep me

You’re deep among my pockets
You’re streaked upon their face
They’re weary and uncertain
Except where they want to be

They come to you in droves
Then sleep beneath your clouds
Bundling the cold in
Thick life coats your street

You snarl but entrance
You love us all the same
We want only to sit and watch
As the rushing tides retreat

The tear stained entries welcome
And in century old puddles we reflect
I reach out to clean your cheek
Smearing mascara upon your face

I love your curves and hollows
I twist come every turn
With a swift drop I soar
Then down into a dive I race

If I wanted to leave your arms
I could not find the door
For with the long walk out
We are always turned within

But I am okay with wandering
As long days turn to longer nights
In shadows I still find shapes
The light persistently dim

I hunger for you but when I tire
I need not sleep but wake
Regard the sky completely
And breathe in all the more

You’re sexy but lethal
We want to swallow you whole
You build us, break us, feed us
We are for you…

Paris, Mon Amour

Sunset from Belleville

Or in other sung words:

– S