jeudi, septembre 21, 2006

Dinner with Renovations

My own Private Space Invader

Cute, eh? It's actually just my phone in extreme closeup, but I quite like it. It has a certain spaceship look to it.

So I spent the morning/lunch running from room to room in the residences, testing signal levels. The building that I'm in is normally for individual students, but since U of C has taken over two floors (and a bit) and internet connectivity is normally available in all of the residence halls at U of C, the Centre tries to provide WiFi coverage here as well. The problem is, the walls here seem to be made with lead sheathed with asbestos, because we have two DSL modems in two rooms connected to two of the most powerful wirelees routers on the market, and we still get barely more than two rooms' coverage in any direction. The result is that a lot of the students sit in the hallways to use the internet. This would be annoying but OK, were it not for the fact that a lot of their language instruction homework is available on the web and, of course, most of the students do their homework late at night. The security guards, on the other hand, don't want anybody loitering in the halls after 11pm, so there has been some tension. Now, the expected reaction at the point would be to shrug your shoulders, say "Ah, France!" and do your homework at the Centre or during pre-11pm hours—or download your homework files ahead of time and save them to your hard disk. But these students paid $15,000+ per quarter to be here, and that buys a fair bit of entitlement. So I've been trying to blunt the testy emails of some students while trying also to convince the Centre that spending money on a difficult-to-broadcast WiFi network is a worthwhile expenditure. Thankfully, the staff have been open to the idea and not too put off by the students' complaints. The result, either way, was that I spent a few hours running from room to room of U of C's block of rooms, checking levels with my laptop's wireless card.

The rest of the day was spent trying to get Apple's Boot Camp and Windows XP installed onto a student's intel-Mac. The program works well, and I'm thrilled with the results, but the setup process still takes ages, mostly thanks to the Windows setup program.

Nonetheless, I had dinner to look forward to. One of my Parisian friends had invited me to dinner with another friend at her place, so I headed out after work to the Marché des Enfants Rouges in the Marais district to pick up a few nice things. I got some pleurotes (oyster-ish mushrooms) for a creamy chicken dish I plan to make tomorrow, some very nice red Bartlett pears and a 1/2-round of camembert aged with calvados (apple) liquor. After dropping off some stuff at home and relaxing for an hour or two, I headed out to my friends place.

She had made a delicious salad with baby spinach, avocadoes, tomatoes, chicken, and pecans. I would've liked to add red onions and lemon juice, but that's the latino in me speaking. She also made a delicious savory tart/quiche made with mostly zucchini and eggs and TONS of cheese. As you might imagine, there is no way that could ever disappoint me. The wine was great, too. We had a Côtes de Blaye wine (I don't remember the precise vintner), which was quite oaky but at the same time not too pungent; after a few minutes out of the bottle, it was very smooth.

As dinner wound down, we got to talking about last week's Techno Parade. I brought up my impressions of masculinity and male sexuality at the parade, and that got us onto a broader topic of masculinity and sexuality in France. What was really interesting was how the responses and theories I got from these two Frenchwomen formed a sort of a cluster of ideas that often conflicted with each other. One of them suggested that current fashion has placed a greater emphasis on feminized or androgenous males, so the sometimes feminized appearance of men in France was merely a side-effect of fashion. A bit later, they both noted that a lot of men they knew (including a boyfriend of one) were heterosexual but could also be described as fin ("fine", "delicate") in contrast (but perhaps not opposition) to "macho." At the same time, one of them had a story about a gay male friend who was reproached by his boyfriend and his friends for acting to "hétéro," while another noted that there's a whole system of gay male desire that rejects folles (lit. "crazy women", fig. "queens, fems"), while seeking out macho or straight-appearing guys. Throughout all of this, it was clear that they thought that straight men in France felt uneasy or confused by the fluidity developing between straight and gay realms of masculinity and the diffusion of non-straight, non-masculine ways of being into some sort of public masculine sphere (or masculine public sphere...I'm still thinking this through).

After dinner, we walked from my friend's apartment to her newly bought apartment (what we would call a condo in N. America, I think) in an old building about 10 minutes' walk away. The building was part of a Haussmann-style apartment block (see: pretty much any street in downtown Paris), which seemed well-kept. Her actual apartment, however, was still in the early stages of renovations. She had already gutted the place very thoroughly, and it looked like a bit of a disaster area. Nonetheless, she had lots of plans for the place and it was exciting to think about what the place might become. I was impressed with how much hassle one has to go through to renovate in an old building. How do you fix a leak if there are no blueprints left of the original plumbing? You bust the wall and find out. The place will be great when it's ready, but at that moment, at 12:30 at night, it looked like a scene from a horror movie. Oy, homeownership!

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