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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hola Mi Amigo

Practicing for Spain in a week.  Sorry, Bratislava and Budapest, you’ll have to speak my language at all times.

Putting “Hola Mi Amigo” in the plural form?  Don’t know how to do it.  I wanted to, because I suspect that there are gatherings at cafés to discuss my blog posts? 

It’s your lucky day; this won’t be a pack-my-stats post in which my only goal is to string you along, keep the views up, and inch towards 10,000.  Get yourself a Venti this time, ‘cause I’m about to throw some content at you.  At the end of this post, your temporal lobe will be nonplussed, and perhaps your comments will be seared with vitriolic criticism.  By the way, nobody ever comments any more, but I’m not going to harp on it. (Mad Lib nouns, adjectives, and verbs provided by R. Flinch via GChat) 

There are many tidbits about France that I have neglected to speak of in my two years as a blogger.  Ironically, but I suppose not surprisingly, I often jot down very normal, logical ideas for blog posts that then lie dormant on pieces of paper in the corner of my room (pictures to come), and when I do pick up a computer, I just felt like writin’ (Forest Gump voice) [sic:  verb tense, Forest].  A lot of times when I start a post, I don’t really know what I’m going to write about, and for that reason, it’s more fun for me.  In this post, I shall purge myself of these unspoken truths by not having any fun and telling you some nuggets about France.

Customer Dis(Service)

Among the English assistants, the limitless depths of French bureaucratic disorder is well-known and well-complained about.  So when an assistant talks about going in to check on the status of the Carte Vitale (health insurance card) that he/she applied for a month ago, only to be told that there is no record whatsoever of that person’s application in the database, I can’t muster a genuine, impassioned reaction.  I’ve become immune to the inconveniences of the system.  Put more accurately, I have become immune to a literal shock in my system regarding the inconveniences of their system.  As for my frustration, there's no immunization in sight for that.    


1.  In late November, I sustained an impressive cut on my leg in banging it against a rail when I was at an Arcade Fire concert.  It quickly ballooned up, and it was apparent that it was infected. 

I went to the doctor, who provided me with the proper medication.  I am entitled to a partial reimbursement on this medication that I received in early December, but will I see these precious euros before my May 18th departure?  Doubtful.  So, yes, the French are very proud of their universal insurance.  But, in terms of those handling the masses of paperwork, there’s no accountability whatsoever.

Because I have transformed into a calendar book courtesan in my two years here, I can look back and share with you my appointments with the health insurance office and the hospital.  This would be after the initial incident, when I started the pursuit of my reimbursement:

January 13th:  I go to the hospital to ask about the process.  I am pointed in the direction of CPAM (the health insurance office), which is on the other side of Lyon.
January 18th:  I go to CPAM.  I am told to head back to the hospital.
January 21st:  I go to the hospital, and, despite trying to synchronize it so that I get a fresh face involved, my number is called by the same woman as the first time.  She tells me to go back to CPAM.  I tell her that they told me to come to the hospital.  She tells me that they are wrong. 
January 26th:  I go to CPAM.  An attempt by the terse-reply-assembly machine (or “unfriendly old woman”) to turn me away is fought off.  I remain firm, explaining my tribulations.  She finally writes me a list of all the documents that I will need to present to them…at CPAM. 

You get the point.  Bureaucratic pinball.

I’m no guru of the inner workings of this country, but I’m going to chalk up the Tourette-inducing disorganization to over-the-top job security (seems to me you don’t need to produce results around these parts to keep a job) and terrible continuity of the work day/schedule (as they are always racing off for their two-hour lunch break or one-week vacation).

2.  I take the metro to work.  As an English assistant, I am entitled to a half-off reduction of the monthly public transportation rate.  Thus, every month I go to the metro office, ask for a receipt for that month’s metro use, and present it to the school that I work at.  The money is supposed to then be automatically put into my bank account.  I have not received a penny.

3.  I go to bars.  One of my favorite bars has a decent happy hour from six to eight, in which beer is half-off.  My friend and I take a seat outside to take advantage of that young spring weather.  A server comes around to take our order, and we ask to make sure the happy hour is on.  “Oui, mais faut que vous vous mettiez a l’interior.”  (“Yes, but only if you sit inside.”)  What?  Really?  You mean the table through that open window that I can reach out and touch from here?  We retreat to the dim interior.  OK, so I just threw this one on my list for the hell of it.  The first two examples are quite irritating; I got over this one quickly enough.  But space is definitely at a premium in Lyon.  You will pay for that outdoor seating.   
You see how these inconveniences can wear on you when you’ve been Americanized? I’m working twelve hours a week in this beautiful, expresso-on-the-terrace country, and here I am going on about bureaucracy.  It is frustrating sometimes, though, folks.  I want my money, or I could set the building on fire.   

In my opinion, universal health insurance is a great facet of life over here.  You would just think that they could have it smoothed over in this day and age…and also that one wouldn’t have to pay extra for a spritz of sunlight with that beer.

So, the grand finale of my travels is on the horizon.  Here’s the itinerary: 
April 22nd:  Train to Paris.  Spend two nights at my buddy’s aunt’s apartment.
April 24th:  Flight from Paris to Bratislava.
April 26th:  Bus from Bratislava to Budapest. 
April 28th:  Bus from Budapest to Bratislava. 
April 29th:  Flight from Bratislava to the Spanish island of Mallorca.
May 3rd:  Flight from Mallorca to Bratislava.
May 4th:  Flight from Bratislava to Paris.
May 5th:  Train from Paris to Lyon.   

I love the janitor, and had to link that.

Well Manolo, Sebastian and I were supposed to go to Vienna, where we were going to have a free condo left for us by friends of a family that I know.  But that plan fizzled, so we had to get creative and plan a trip around the low-cost airlines that offer limited destinations.  Should be a good time. 


Haircuts and Blog Posts Tomorrow


At my childhood barbershop, there is a permanent sign that hangs above the mirror, on which is written, "Free Haircuts Tomorrow."  I remember reading it with excitement and bewilderment, until I eventually grasped the humorous ploy (or maybe my dad just explained it to me; really don't remember).

In the name of segues everywhere, tomorrow I have a haircut.  I am going to a lycée des métiers des arts de la coiffure, a rather verbose way of saying "haircutting school."  If the French had a "Hamburger University," they'd probably find at least a seven-word name for it.  Pretentious bâtards.

With my faded Illinois Wesleyan University card, I will try to pass as a university student, entitling me to a 2euro reduction and thus a 5euro haircut.  Who's pullin' fast ones now, barbershops?

So am I walking into a certain self-esteem train wreck, such as that experienced by my brother in high school when he rang up a local hottie, asked her to a dance, received a shocking reply of "Yes," only to later be told that she thought she had been speaking to a different Michael?  By putting the scissors in the hands of a student (the lycée above means "high school"... gulp), I may very well be.  But that's part of the fun.  

And tomorrow, YOU have a blog post coming, so do hurry back.  And this is no ploy.  

[Author reserves the right to dip into both time zones for his claims.  He will write it tomorrow, Wednesday, probably for final publishing my Thursday but still your Wednesday.]

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Good afternoon, Mr. Rabinowitz. Although I'm not so sure how good it is." (A Cathartic Post)

Cool Points if you understood the title above without Google.

Well, I'm writing you all from chez Sebastian (Sebastian's crib), my American friend who lives across La Saone from me.  He was polite enough to take me in this morning, after I was impolite enough to incessantly ring his doorbell until I roused him from his slumbers.

Let's take it from the top:  I woke up this morning at 10, to prepare myself for a lunch at the aforementioned doctor's house (the man who I tutor), before we were to head off for a round of golf.  I went downstairs to take the glass recycling out, which one places in a massive container that is on the corner of many streets.  The sun was shining and the quai de la Saone was bustling with an art fair.  My first French golf experience was a mere couple of hours away.  The day had some serious potential.

I re-entered, unlocked the outer door to enter the stairway leading up to the apartments, and dropped my keys, which slid ever so casually, indifferently really, into a sewer.  They now lie about three meters below, faintly visible in the dark underground, teasing me.  I tried to remove the sewer, but there was to be no child-in-danger Herculean strength (if a racquetball match was in question, I would have easily succeeded).    

With no roommates nor the landlady in the building, I had little choice but to make the pyjamaed, Adidas-sandaled trek across the river, where I could at least send an e-mail to the doctor.  The fashion-obsessed Lyonnais undoubtedly judged me for my garb.

On the bright side, I churned out a blog post [granted, it's about n'importe quoi (direct translation:  "no matter what," but in this case, "rubbish")] and relearned the French word for "sewer" (it's l'égout) as I had to write the doctor explaining my pickle.

Fortunately, we should be able to play golf next weekend.

Hope to soon recount tales of my travels in the French Riviera with my parents, or at least post pictures.

As for future travels, in two weeks, Sebastian and I are embarking on a ten-day trip to Bratislava, Budapest, and the Spanish island of Mallorca.  Giddyup.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

34 minute post

Hey y'all,

We're doing a speed post here, because as the Brits like to say, I can't be arsed.

I wish I could paint even the slightest word picture of the incredible monuments that I saw in Rome, notably the Pantheon.  Scott and I initially came across it at night, as it lies unassumingly cramped in a small plaza, shielded from view by many buildings.  We visited it hastily the last day, just before catching our plane to Dublin.  I consider myself lucky to have even placed a foot inside the dome, but I easily could have taken a seat for hours and attempted to etch a more permanent memory of the splendor surrounding me.  The very center of the dome is an Oculus, allowing a circle of sunlight to traipse along its interior.  Of course, the B.C. origin of the building and the exact dimensions beg the question, "How?"


This weekend, I went to Savoie, a region in the Alps.  My friend's parents have a restaurant and hotel there, catering to French people and foreigners alike.  Their house is warmly wooded on the interior, marking the successful marriage of wooden cabin, and mountains.

Skiing was on the itinerary, but sub-par conditions and late-night partying kept it at bay.  I'm okay with that, because skiing I have done.  Climbing up a muddy, somewhat rocky side path in the Alps to a mountainside bar at midnight, and descending by means of sitting on shovels four hours later, I had not done.  It was a good time.


OK, that will do for tonight.

If I ever made a movie, this song would get in there one way or another.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Evolution of the Blog, with Roman Metaphors

After a hot start to the blog this year (first 3 posts in 3 weeks), my frequency had begun to dwindle, much like the decline of gladiator activity in the Colosseum in the fifth century A.D.  But like the battles that were temporarily revived soon after, the blog is back.  This may be analogy overkill, a word that could have also been used by medieval Roman intellectuals, for they feared the bloody battles had a negative impact on the values of participants and spectators.

Basically, we are at the Dublin hostel right now, counting the minutes until we can take the 3 a.m. shuttle to the airport for our flight to Paris.  We checked out at 10:30 a.m. yesterday because we are cheap and didn't want to pay for a final night, but we snuck back in to stay away from the Dublin cold and expensive pub brews.

We streamed a bunch of college basketball games and got in our recommended five fruits for the day with some delicious berry and pear Irish cider (and a banana).

The Pantheon blew my mind, and this will go down as yet another blog post in which I wanted to try to describe the awe-inspiring structure, and failed.

Until the next time...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Scott and Dan here, reporting from Dublin as planned.  This is a very good thing, as Rome's winding, busy streets had as much killing potential as no-handed, downhill bicycling.  Worst analogy yet.  But seriously, if you go to Rome, avoid consumption of gelato while walking around.  You can easily enter an alternate universe of gelato jubilee, and get run over by motorcycle or automobile.  The locals (if you can find any in Rome, that is..) seem to have an understanding with the drivers, and simply walk onward, fearlessly, unscathed.  My crossings of the street had the feel of those coarsely-shot, rocky Any Given Sunday football scenes.


I'll fill in the gaps here.  So Scott and I were cruising around Rome a couple of days ago (he sets a torrid pace), trying to fit in the Vatican museum.  We were giving out serious tourist vibes, maps out, clothes not clinging to our bodies mercilessly (image of Scott's tree trunks in tight, European jeans...WOOF), myself donning 4euro plastic glasses purchased from the ubiquitous street peddlers.

A middle-aged woman greeted us in American English.  She kindly informed us that the Vatican museum was closed, so we would have to try again the next day.  I asked her what she was doing in Rome.  She was a tour guide, she explained, who grew up in L.A.  That's when things got weird.

She went on to say that she flew in to Europe on 06/06/06, because there were ''cheap flights'' (right...) and anyways, the devil and her had a deal worked out in which they leave each other alone.  ''I came over to connect some dots,'' she added.

My eyes remained locked to hers and I feigned open-minded interest (ok the ''interest'' part I did not have to fake... I love encounters like this) because I am a softie and I try to avoid giving off the "You are clinically insane" message, even if I am sure of the diagnosis.  However, out of the corner of my eye, I could see Scott shuffling around a bit, as well as some facial adjustments that I figured to be cynical (and merited) smirking.

Additional points from Constellation Lady:
- A ticket to the underworld can be obtained.  She did not provide more details; I would hook you guys up if I knew more, and you know that.
- All of the presidents are related.  Obama, Taft... Recessive genes make for crazy times!
- The truth is on youtube.
- I can be a servant of God.  I just have to keep my mind open, and not believe everything I hear (yes, her inclusion of this advice could be classified as this Alanis Morsette song).

Viewers wishing to know more about the truth can visit

 The conclusion of our exchange involved us walking away slowly, and her saying that she hoped we didn't think she was crazy.  I meekly replied, "No, no.  I'll check it out."

Let me just say that the countries of Japan and New Zealand are in my good graces at the moment.  In Rome, we kicked it a bit with Yoshi from Tokyo, a 23-year old who said "Wow!" to about everything we had to say.  Great kid.

And then there was Byron from New Zealand.  A slightly overweight, shaggy-haired graffic design artist, he was doing what Australians and New Zealanders tend to do:  travelling the world until no more money remained, and then heading back home.  He arrived at the hostel our last night in Rome, already drunk from dinner.  If I was making a light-hearted romance movie in which a girl brought her beau over to meet the family, I would cast Byron as the loveable but slightly abrasive little brother who manages to put the beau in uncomfortable situations.

They were two more fantastic hosteling diplomats.

Slán, my friends.  There's sleep to be slept and Guinnesses to be consumed.

Monday, March 7, 2011

From Rome


We arrived in Rome yesterday at one in the afternoon, to sunny, mild weather. Unfortunately, it was straight to the hostel beds for us, as Scott and I had gotten two hours of sleep combined our last night in Madrid. The sleep deprivation made for a most unenjoyable, head-bobbing Ryanair flight into Rome. The baby being passed back and forth over my head between two Spanish women did not help my cause.

To review our stops so far:

Lisbon is a phenomenal, vibrant city that had me at hello. It has earthy hues to it, with clay-red roofs resting on top of yellow, orange, and salmon-pink houses. These colors, with a touch of Tagus River thrown in, result in a tranquility that I haven't felt in more bustling European cities. Thin, winding streets rise and fall between apartment buildings that people are lucky enough to live in. The city offers a wonderful view across the river of lush green trees surrounding a massive, white monument commemorating Christopher Columbus.

Madrid, on the other hand, allows me to begin a new list from my European travels: Cities that I Do Not Like. I have never gone to a European city that did not stimulate me in the slightest. And then came Madrid.

OK I have to go explore Rome. Talk soon.