Sunday, March 29, 2009


My attempt at a pantoum, one of the most difficult poem formats, for an assignment on repetition.


Good things happen in bad towns
Under lettered lights in polluted skies,
Dreams can come true for those who believe or those
With nothing left to lose.

Under lettered lights in polluted skies,
The inaudible driver dropped me on the corner
With nothing left to lose,
Just 30 bucks in my pocket.

The inaudible driver dropped me on the corner.
I had no home, I had no friends,
Just 30 bucks in my pocket,
My father’s talents, my mother’s good looks.

I had no home, I had no friends,
Until I met Mr. Pearlstein.
My father’s talent and my mother’s good looks
Caught his attention, which isn’t easy to get.

Until I met Mr. Pearlstein
I didn’t know how to sell myself.
Caught his attention, which isn’t easy to get,
On the sandy shores of Malibu.

I didn’t know how to sell myself.
Sometimes whales beach themselves
On the sandy shores of Malibu
But no one knows why.

Sometimes whales beach themselves,
It’s hard for mammals to understand each other.
But no one knows why
Good things happen in bad towns.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The European Fairy Tale

I, like most Americans, had a very romantic view of Europe. “If only I was in Europe,” I would think, “then my whole life would be different!” We think that Europeans are so much more progressive than Americans, but in a lot of ways, I’ve found the opposite. One of my best friends here is Korean, and it’s become common for people to yell Asian stereotyped remarks at her when we go out on the weekends. These people probably come in from the burbs of Paris, but it was nonetheless SHOCKING. America is always under intense criticism about race relations—usually coming from within—but I think that because of this scrutiny, America is actually one of the best countries concerning race.

Being from the Atlanta but going to school in the Boston, I’ve also found the same phenomena occurred. The South was once a very racist region, but it was legitimately forced to confront its racism and I find it now to be way more tolerant than the North. Going to college in Boston, I overheard far, far more prejudiced things said every day by my peers. Boston may have been less racist that the South fifty years ago, but it was never forced to change, and I feel it’s still probably as racist as it was in the 1960s. The mayor of Atlanta is a black woman and no one thinks anything of it. The Massachusetts governor is black, and everyone wants a big congratulation for being so tolerant.

I also thought that Europe would be more environmentally minded. And of course some countries are and are very progressive in that stance, but certainly not France. No one I’ve talked to has EVER mentioned environmental impact.

I have to remember that European countries like France were founded on Catholic law, and I think nations like France, Spain and Italy still have some conservative leftovers from it.

But France is more open with sex. Way more open. I can turn on my TV one night that gets the basic 6 channels, and I’d be surprised not to see a sex scene in a movie being shown. And on magazine stands across the city right now is a giant, full-frontal ad for a beauty magazine with a picture of a model completely naked. It shocked me at first but I’m not even phased by it anymore because it’s EVERYWHERE.

It’s funny this romantic fairy-tale view of Europe (the whole continent, not just countries) that Americans have, especially because many of our ancestors came to the states running away from Europe. But there can be a magical quality here, of history different from our own, but not TOO different.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

50 Degrees and Sunny

My narrative poem assignment inspired by my time in Madrid.

50 Degrees and Sunny

It was one of those perfect do-nothing days: 50 degrees and sunny, sufficiently warm without sweating. The park looked unnatural with prearranged flora and last night’s sodded grass, but no one was concerned—the city was cheerful for spring. With a friend by my side and a brioche in my hand, we sat on a dewy bench surveying the strolling of older couples. It was, in fact, mainly older couples, hand-in-hand, enjoying prescribed together time outside their TV living rooms. It came as no surprise to me that my partner was plutonic. We watched from a distance another plump pair amble by on the cracked sidewalk. The trees’ shade couldn’t hide the brightness in their faces. Her face, round and wrinkled, suggested a moment forgetting the troubles of the world, the conflicts in her life, the issues of her marriage—it was the face that only a destinationless walk can bring. In that scarce Sunday moment, her next step hit the jutted cement at a right angle and her hand slipped from the man’s. We tried hard to stifle, but laughter is an unavoidable reaction to a face-first tripping. But then we noticed her husband’s worried look as her hand hovered over her mouth. At our distance, I believed her lip was bleeding. What was taking her so long to get up? I wanted to go to her, grab her by the shoulders and look her in the eye and say, “It’s okay, I’ve tripped before too,” but I didn’t know Spanish. As she struggled to get up for the longest five minutes of my do-nothing day, we walked by the couple, pretending that nothing happened, for her.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Sight from my Shared Toliet

"Please Don't Throw Anaything in the Toliets" --French management for my building

My landlady who I rent the apartment from is named Rosa. She lives in the Parisian burbs now but lived in the apartment for 8 years while in school and with her first child (carrying a baby up six flights of steps!) and now rents it out. She is extremely nice and last time I paid rent to her, she asked me what my heritage was. I told her I wasn't really sure aside from Eastern European and that I was just American. She called me a "real authentic American boy." So I talked to my dad and asked him for more specifics. I told her in an email scheduling our next rent payment, to which she replied:
Hi Bobby, Tell your father I'm from the F.B.I. ( French Bob's Investigations ) !

Love her.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Moment of Clarity: A Spring Break Story

In Boston, I had lived for a month with a Parisian girl, Louise, before she decided that the finance program she attended at my school was a waste of her money. She was great and I still keep in touch with her, and she wanted to set me up with a friend of hers in the city that would tell me of the cool places to go and tips and tricks of Paris. So the day before I left for my spring break, I met up with him for lunch. Unfortunately, this guy was every bad stereotype about the French embodied. In his too-tight blazer showing off his fat roll in the middle with shaggy hair covering his perpetually bugged-out eyes, he turned every topic we talked about into an argument of France vs. the United States. I’m in France after all, and I want to expand my horizons and learn new things, but this guy has no intentions of every living outside of his home in Paris or to overcoming his provincial thinking. He was so rude, bringing up randomly about the American girl who thought France was a city in Europe or saying how he didn’t like New Yorkers, and then at the end he paid for my two euro coffee, citing that it was because he was Parisian and polite. I wanted to kill him. I hate hypocrisy, and he was nothing but hypocritical. It was nice of him to meet me for lunch, but I don’t get why he would if he was just going to be a tool the whole time. More so, I thought Louise and him were good friends, but he didn’t even have good things to say about Louise. In the beginning of the lunch, I tried to be polite, but by the end, on the metro, I needed to get my own personal vengeance. As I figured, he being a typical Parisian, it made him really uncomfortable for me to talk to him, loudly, in an American accent no less, about idiotic things on the train. Parisians are very insecure of what others think of them in public spaces, and most people are always silent on the train, and to be talking loudly in English is mortifying. Small victories.

The lunch left me with such a bad taste of the French that I could get rid of for the whole day. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. Why was I even here? The more I’m here, the more I believe that all the bad things said about the French are true. Of course I had heard all these things, but I wanted to believe that it would be different for me, that I could charm them over despite my lack of French, but Parisians have no interest in talking to anyone not Parisian. I just wanted to be out of France and in Spain.

So, the next day, my friend Soo-Young and I were off to sunny EspaƱa. She met me at 5 AM in my metro stop because the RER there runs straight to the airport. Of course we both don’t sleep that night and we’re both in a haze, but we make our last correct train. As I walk down the platform to meet her, I see that she’s with someone. Taking the metro on the way to my stop, a Korean girl had stopped Soo-Young, noticing she was Korean too, to ask for directions to the airport. The girl knew no English, and when she found out Soo-Young was going to the airport too, she asked if she was going to Spain too. When she found out Soo-Young was, she held out her ticket, asking if she was on the same flight to Barcelona, saying that she didn’t know where she was staying once she got there. Soo-Young tells me the progression was like a scene in a movie. SY (abbreviation for convenience sake) was born in Korea but moved to California when she was 5, so she is still fluent in both languages, and throughout her whole life, she’s had to be that girl who translates for the new Korean person. She of course always does it because she’s nice, but it’s the story of her life and she absolutely hates having to do everything for these people. Our Korean’s name was Ming-Youn (I don’t know the spelling), and while she could speak French, she knew ZERO English or Spanish, yet she was traveling to Barcelona alone. She was so nice that we wanted to help her, but we soon found out that this clueless Korean girl with no Spanish or English is actually 37 years old. THIRTY-SEVEN YEARS OLD. And yet she was completely incapable, didn’t know how to do anything, and needed SY’s help for everything. So with our new travel companion, we arrived in Barcelona.

It’s hard to believe Spain and France are neighbors. Their views on life are so fundamentally different, all the more apparent to me after my horrible lunch. People are friendly and instead of hating on you for not knowing their language, they try to communicate with you despite the difference, and are still friendly on top of that. Outside of Barcelona is kind of in ruins, but exiting the Barcelona subway, the city itself is beautiful and such a pleasure getting out of grey Paris. The streets were wide and open, you could eat outside, it was sunny, just gorgeous. Barcelona doesn’t really contribute to the modern connected world but acts mainly as a tourist destination. It has a distinctive architectural vibe, and Gaudi served as the main architectural influencer on the city, creating surrealist, trippy buildings, parks and churches. The term “gaudy” is coined after him if that gives you any idea. So we check into our hostel, and of course we get Ming-Youn a bed too because she has nowhere to stay, and they of course place her in our room thinking we’re friends. In fact, the people at the hostel front desk assumed I knew Korean too. The hostels I’ve stayed in so far have been extremely nice, in great locations with clean rooms, free breakfast and computer access, but I’m not really the hostel type. Believe it or not, but I can be friendly and if I’m in the same room as someone, I’ll of course introduce myself and get to know them. But in hostels, everyone wants to know where you’re going, what you’re doing and wants to constantly do stuff with you. Unnecessary. Though some weird people, we met some cool people too. Hostels are just a cesspool for weird people.

One girl we befriended for the better was a 26-year-old Canadian who was backpacking through Europe in between employment. Her and another girl went to the market one day and made the most delicious dinner of mussels and clams and salad that I’ve had my entire trip for the four of us. Another night, the three of us needed to escape the hostel so we went walking down the main drag looking for somewhere to go out. Something in me told me to turn down one side street, so we did. I then felt the need to turn down another side street. From there we passed a hostel bar with cheap drinks, but something in me told me to go to the place a few doors down. As we got in, before I could even say anything, Soo-Young turns back to me and says, “I think it’s a gay bar!” It’s as if I was magnetically drawn without knowing it! As we got farther back in this excellently divey place, we saw that the most low-budget drag show was going on. Ugly drag queens in run-of-the-mill dresses and wigs were performing old Spanish songs we’d never heard of. It was perfect. Then the drag queens left, the cheesiest music came on and everyone sang every word aloud. One good thing for me about living in Paris, though, is that it’s taught me to try to use the country’s language even if I’m not good. Though I took Spanish in high school, it’s been so long that I’ve used it that I’ve forgotten almost all of it, but I tried anyway throughout my whole trip while I noticed many other people visiting didn’t even try.

After visiting the Picasso Museum, strolling down the main La Rambla market, doing an architectural tour of Gaudi, visiting Park Guell and a day-trip to the beautiful beach town of Sitges, it was already Saturday night and time for our 8-hour, 1 AM bus ride to Madrid. I really had a great time in Barcelona and loved the place, but I was excited to see the 24-hour-city of Madrid because every place I go to, I like to imagine myself living there. I could never live in Barcelona, but could I ever live in Madrid? Nearly everyone in Barcelona recommended a buffet place to us on our last night, so we decided to try it out. It was a nice place that locals and tourists equally ate at with good quality, normal food. In front of us in line was an American dad, from Kentucky but now living in Long Island, with his two sons. He turned around to ask us our stories and when he found out I studied journalism, he immediately went off on a random tangent about one thing he read decades ago about journalism. Afterwards, he stopped and said, “I don’t know why I just had to tell you that.” I was like, It’s okay, thinking of my own dad, like probably all American dads, who can’t filter the random thoughts from their brain to their mouths. So we stuffed our faces at the buffet like a good tourist and took the bus.

Worst idea ever. I took two Tylenol-PMs so slept uncomfortably for most of the ride, but Soo-Young puked twice in a plastic bag since there was no bathroom on the bus. Once we finally got to Madrid, I threw up. We were sick our entire first day in Madrid, horrible food poisoning I assume, and just slept the entire day. It was miserable. We were feeling mostly better by the next day. We went to the Prado museum just in time for the opening of a Francis Bacon exhibit, and it was one of the best exhibits I’ve seen in a long time. They put it together in such a good way, putting his work in chronological order of his life with explanations of his themes and own life, and instead of including sketches and stuff from his studio just because the collectors had them, they portrayed them in a way that really made sense with the exhibit. It’s a good feeling leaving an exhibit with a new favorite artist. We also went to the main street and watched the Madrid hookers—doesn’t sound thrilling but so interesting, because there were so many among the normal people and cops there too, and some of them were terrifying, like this huge Elvira looking one, but fun to make up stories about them in my head.

The whole trip SY and all of her friends in Madrid (they were doing an International Business program through Northeastern) talked of all their boring, finance-major friends from Boston with boring New England Irish names like Pat Murphy, or worse, calling them by just their last name, and the whole Madrid trip I sat through them talking about these boring people that I would have never even talked to if I was still in Boston. One of Soo-Young’s friends from Northeastern let us stay with her, which is so nice, but I felt she was kind of passive aggressive to me for no reason. I can’t explain it. I was so excited for Madrid, I thought Madrid was more like the urban offering of Spain, but in fact Madrid was remarkably smaller than Barcelona and I had a remarkably less fun time. I think I want to go back again on my own later on in life. The girl who let us stay with her, though, had a really great boyfriend named Leon who was German but had lived all over the world and knew tons of languages. He was the anti-French guy, because while Parisians like the guy I went to lunch with are the most arrogant yet know the least about the world, the ones who do really know a lot are the most accepting.

While hanging out with SY’s friends in Madrid, I had a moment of clarity: I realized I need to make the most of my time in Paris in these last three months. These people in Madrid had been living there for six months now, and yet they still didn’t know any good restaurants, never went out to eat, and hadn’t visited any of the neighborhoods in this small city, and they were content with that. These were the same majority of people who when we all lived in Boston, only hung out near school and would go to bars around campus. I didn’t want to be like that in Paris because I’ve never been like that anywhere else in my life, not in Boston, not in New York, so why in Paris? Don’t get my wrong, I actually really liked SY’s friends in Madrid, they were friendly, open and eclectic, and opting to go to school and work in a foreign city for a year is a big undertaking that deserves a lot of respect from me. But it just became very clear that I need to be myself in Paris. I realize now that I’m never going to have any Parisian friends here, and that’s fine by me, I need to just have as good as a time as I can. If that means going out to places and spending money, then I need to find a way to get money because there’s no point in staying in my tiny chambre de bonne. I only have a few months left, and I have to make the most of it. Writing this down seems pretty common sense, but it felt monumental in my food poisoning sickness.

After a Madrid metro ride, a RyanAir flight (I swear, the plane driver over the intercom always sounds like he is drunk and I never feel safe riding with RyanAir), an hour and a half bus ride from the Beauvais airport and another metro ride, I was finally home and it felt good. I really liked Spain and was so glad we chose there as our last-minute Spring Break destination, but relying on others and not being able to escape people for a week is hard for me. The bus from the airport was full of Spanish people, and while I had liked the Spanish on my trip, they really changed my mind on the bus ride back. Instead of being silent on transport like the French, Spaniards never shut up. Literally, never. Our Polish tour guide in Barcelona (who I loved) complained to us that they NEVER shut up on buses or trains, and she was right. The entire ride home everyone talked non-stop, and these (drunk?) girls were singing and chanting and clapping in the back. That probably reads as celebratory, but it was in fact really annoying and rude, which they were well aware of. The bus driver even stopped the bus to go back and tell them to shut up in French, but they just snapped back saying in Spanish that they don’t know French and to take them to Paris, and then sang louder in spite. A proper French person would never have done that, and it made me like the Spanish less. And seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night from our bus window, it made me really happy to be home.