samedi, octobre 25, 2008

Batofar has a canteen?

Something about getting up at 5h00 yesterday really knocked the wind out of me, and I wasn’t even sure that I was going to go out tonight. I spent the majority of the day taking care of some work, looking up my teaching materials for my English class next week, and catching up on blogging. By about 19h00, a Canadian friend of mine called to see if I was interested in going out for and apéro (pre-dinner drinks). In the end, she ate an early dinner, so we turned the date into post-dinner drinks.

We started off at a café near my place called L’Autre Café, where we were seated in the cheap seats (since we weren’t eating). After a couple of “pots” (half-litres) of wine, I got a text message from Fantômette, who was going to be spinning at the “cantine” of Batofar (i.e., the top deck, rather than the club in the hull below). It was close to where my friend lives, so we decided to head out together and check it out.

Up until the last minute, I was still unsure about whether I was really going to go out at all. I was feeling lethargic and I was having trouble mustering the enthusiasm to dance until 6h00 the next day. Nonetheless, I was glad I finally went over to Batofar to see Fantô, as a large part of the “Frenchy Krew” was there was well, so I was able to chat with everyone in a context that was more conducive to conversation than a full-on nightclub.

Mind you, the volume was still set pretty high in that little dancefloor. The “cantine” was the deck level of the boat, including a small covered area, which was maybe 30m2 in total. Although the feel of the space was more bar than club, the drink prices were emphatically club-like (i.e., 10€ for a basic mixed drink). Fieldwork is an expensive enterprise in Paris, I tell you.

Anyway, I got to see Fantô spin for a while, then hung out with the whole group and introduced them to my Canadian friend. By about 2h00, I was feeling tired and kinda done for the evening. There was a Freak’n’Chic party going on at the Rex, but the idea of heading all the way over there and waiting in line just to see a set of DJs I’ve seen several times before just wasn’t very enticing.

My friend and I were going to start heading back home together, but she disappeared as I was making my goodbyes and I couldn’t find her. After making a few attempts to call her, I gave up and headed home on my own. I discovered later that she had made some other friends while waiting for me to leave and so she had gone back into the club and we had somehow missed each other. Ah well, at least she got home safe!

Anyway, I hopped on a Vélib bike and headed home, which was a welcome bit of exercise after a day spent mostly sitting down in front of my computer.

vendredi, octobre 24, 2008

Valley of the Loire...and Pizza Hut

Today, I got up at 5h00. Yes, that’s right. 5am. 5 in the morning.

I was to work as a chaperone for the UofC trip to the Loire valley today. The itinerary was for a day-trip to Blois and Chambord or, to be more precise, to the castles located at both of these towns in the Loire valley. I took my camera, with a freshly-recharged battery, and then totally forgot to take pictures. It’s always a bit stressful when you’re in charge of a group, so I was never really in the mind to whip out my camera and snap pics.

So, no photo evidence of today’s trip. Also, I’m sticking to my policy of not blogging in detail about “work,” so all I’ll say about the trip was that the castles were lovely, but I really don’t enjoy being a chaperone for a tour group.

We got home at about 19h00 and I had plans to go out, but I was just too tired from being on the run for more than 12 hours. So called around and cancelled my plans, and then ordered some pizza. Yes, I ordered pizza delivery in Paris. And just to make it completely ironic, I actually ordered from Pizza Hut.

Actually, the Pizza Hut grub here in France is better than what you would get in the US. They use a blend of French and Swiss cheeses, so the pizza is much more fragrant than the “cheez” mix you usually get on pizzas in the states. The dough was a bit overly wet, and the “stuffed crust” was horribly disappointing, but the toppings were tasty and the whole thing was quite edible. The mozzarella breadsticks, though, were kinda “meh.”

jeudi, octobre 23, 2008

Jeff Koons at Versailles

So I had today off, because I was going to be working as a chaperone for a group of UofC students the next day. I decided, then, to head off to Versailles to finally see the Jeff Koons exhibit there. It’s been pretty controversial, since there are those who believe that putting Jeff Koons’s glossy, hyper-expensive, massive-scale pop-art in the context of Versailles’s pearlescent, extravagant, monumental palace sullies French cultural heritage. I say, “Yes, and?”

Anyway, it’s the kind of exhibit that enraptures or infuriates people, and either way everyone felt compelled to take many, many photos of it. I joined in the fun myself, snapping pictures until my camera ran out of juice. I was pretty salty about forgetting to re-charge the battery; the battery is so long-lasting, I forget that I need to recharge it and every once in a while I find myself out at an event with a useless camera. Grr. Anyway, I’m determined to go back one more time with a fully functioning camera. In the meanwhile, here’s some of the pictures I took today. You can find all of them, with commentary, on my Facebook album [LINK] (yes, I’m on Facebook now; don’t rub it in).

By the way, if you ever want to visit Versailles, go on a weekday during the fall. It was wonderfully under-populated by tourists. Sure, there were still tourists everywhere you looked, but I didn’t have to wait in line to buy tickets or get into the building.

mercredi, octobre 22, 2008

Dissertation Jitters

So, some dissertation-related news: I’ve got a new set of deadlines. The UofC centre has a doctoral seminar running over here, and I volunteered to present a chapter to the group on the 4th of December, which means that I really need to have something ready by the beginning of that month. So, in other words, I have one month to squeeze out a chapter. Let’s see how that goes.

Also, there’s a dissertation-year fellowship (Mellon/ACLS) that has a deadline on November 12, and the application instructions demand a chapter that is neither your introduction nor your conclusion chapter. So, in fact, I’m going to make a mad dash to have at least a reasonable draft of my chapter for November 12…precisely 3 weeks away.

To add to the tension, I went to the first meeting of the seminar today and came to the conclusion that this group is going to HATE my work. There is one anthropologist, who defended her thesis proposal today, and a whole slew of literature (and some philosophy and history) people. Now, back in Chicago I work in a reading group that has a very mixed (and mostly literature) disciplinary demographic and we manage to talk to each other, but this seminar has a very different tone. This woman’s proposal was, like most anthropology proposals, very tentative about defining “common sense” terms like “belief” and “faith” (she’s working on “secular Catholicism” in modern France), since those sorts of concepts are supposed to be derived from the fieldwork (i.e., interviews, observations) that she is about to do. In contrast, archive-based Humanities proposals tend to want all the theory worked out in advance, because this will structure how the project will proceed, what will be excluded, how texts will be interpreted.

In other words, most of the seminar members pounced on the fuzzy definitions and open-ended concepts and wouldn’t let go. Part of this was also due to an ignorance of disciplinary history, though; I’m guessing that most of these other scholars weren’t aware of anthropology’s “Crisis of Representation” in the 70s, 80s and 90s, and the effect it had on anthropologists’ views of their own theory-making. Most scholars in ethnographically-based study are now hyper-aware and self-conscious about how their own terms and concepts risk distorting the results they gain from those they consult with; for example, a North-American notion of secularism might not be the same as the French one, and presuming as much may cause you to misinterpret things and to come to erroneous conclusions.

So, anyway, I’m expecting to show up in December with my soft, weak, vague notions of intimacy, publics, solidarity, affect and so on, and to be savaged. I’m certainly ready for it—one thing UofC teaches you is how to defend your ideas against ruthless critique—but I’m not looking forward to it.

mardi, octobre 21, 2008


Well, not much to report for today, really. I finally finished dealing with that student laptop with the persistent worm. In the end, I backed up her important documents and then wiped the disk and put in a completely new installation of the operating system (Windows XP, not Vista, thank you).

It was raining cats and dogs today, and so I arrived at my English class soaking wet. With all the dignity of a wet cat, I nonetheless pushed through with my class. After that, I headed home, ate a huge plate of leftovers, and did a bit of blogging. Then, sweet, sweet sleep.

lundi, octobre 20, 2008

Enervé, Enervated

[NOTE: enervé is a “false friend” of the English term, “enervated.” enervé means “frustrated, upset.”]

Although the rest of the day was relatively innocuous, the start of my day was, well, something else.

I left my apartment, a bit behind schedule, and walked over to the nearest Vélib station. All the bikes were taken or broken or, in one case, blocked (i.e., the light on the bike lock was red instead of green). Dammit.

Well, there are other Vélib kiosks around here. I walked over to one of the kiosks on the larger boulevard nearby, and all the bikes were taken or damaged. Fuck.

I walked over to another kiosk a bit further down the boulevard and found that there was one lone bike that was both in good condition and not locked. I put my Navigo pass on the bike lock and it beeped red. What the fuck?

I went over to the terminal at the center of the bike stand and pressed my card to the card-reader. It tells me that I already have a bike out. Fuck.

Something must’ve happened when I returned home from the Rex Saturday night / Sunday morning by Vélib. The rental rate scheme of Vélib was designed to encourage short trips, which means that the rate increases the longer you have the bike out. At more than 24 hours, I can only imagine how much money is currently sitting on my card as a balance. Well, it’s time to make a phone call, as this will only get more expensive the longer I wait. I called the help number marked on the terminal and navigated my way through the phone tree to a live operator. I started walking back toward the Parmentier métro station as I waited for the operator to answer.

Just as I heard the operator come on the line, I hear a loud but hollow thud, scrape and crunch of plastic tumbling and cracking. I thought maybe someone had tipped over their recycling bin as they took it out onto the street. As I turned around, I saw a small car completing its turn to the left, some movement just behind it toward the rear of the car, and a motorcycle helmet, empty, sailing over the top of the car. Holy shit.

As I came around the other side of the car, I saw a dent in the rear drivers-side door panel, a motorbike on its side, and a woman, looking a bit dazed. She seemed, at first, to be ready to get up and brush herself off, as she started to lift herself off the ground and the other driver got out of his car and approached her. But, a second later, her eyes widened, she looked down, clutched her left shin where her black stocking had been torn, and started to scream. Oh no.

She was quickly lost from my view as other witnesses gathered around to tend to her and pull out cell phones. I suddenly remembered that I also had a phone to my ear and there was a feminine voice making confused noises. I ducked around a corner to get away from the woman’s screams and the noise of cars honking as traffic backed up. There were already people helping her, people calling emergency services and at least two dozen witnesses, so my presence wasn’t likely to be needed or helpful; but I still felt bad about walking away and continuing with my business. Regardless of how useless I might be in the situation, I felt some responsibility to just be there and somehow validate, reflect or relay the frightening impact of the moment. I was supposed to stay in the scene, even if I was of no other use.

With all this running through my mind, I tried to articulate my problem with bike rental in French. My veneer of fluency was gone. I spoke in short, telegraphic sentences; fragments that didn’t connect well. I forgot proper technical terms and found myself substituting and misusing more common words instead. I made enough sense for the woman to understand my problem. She seemed to know what to do, as she started to ask me when I had last rented a bike, where I dropped it off, and so on. The details were suddenly jumbled in my head and, as the screams echoing around the corner began to fade, I had to close my eyes and stop walking to get everything straight.

“At which station did you re-attach your bike? What station number?” I didn’t know the number, so I gave her the intersection of streets and the neighborhood. No good, she said, there were too many stations in that area and it would take her forever to find the right one manually. Well, I wasn’t far from the station in question, so I told her I would run over there and check the number myself.

As I ran past the scene of the crash, the woman was sitting up, head down, leaning silently against the driver of the car who had his arms around her while a cluster of people paced nervously with cellphones to their ears.

I got to the bike station, read off the number, and waited for the woman to tell me what to do. She asked me to guess the precise number of the lock I used to re-attach the bike and, after a bit of intense memory work, I gave her a range of 4 or 5 locks. As it turns out, that “blocked” bike I had seen at the beginning of my day was the same bike I had used and returned Sunday morning. I could quite figure out why, but the bike wasn’t properly registered in the system as “returned.” The woman tells me that I there will be a 35€ charge that will eventually be reimbursed from my account, but in the meanwhile I can’t use my card for 48 hours. Well, alright.

This should’ve been the moment where I throw my hands in the air and curse loudly (which I can do with great fluency in French) about how nothing is going right for me today. What I had just witnessed a minute earlier, however, put things into perspective and effectively cut off my mounting frustration. I went to the bike terminal again and bought a temporary 1-day pass, which doesn’t need to use my transit card.

As I biked past the scene of the crash one more time, there was an eerie silence as the rush-hour drivers silenced their honking at the sight of an ambulance. She was being lifted into the vehicle on a stretcher as I crossed the street and dipped into the bike lanes.

dimanche, octobre 19, 2008

Wine cures all ills, except cirrosis of the liver

Well, considering that I had kept myself awake until 6am rather than the much earlier night I had intended, I was a bit of a wreck today. I slept in, then eventually got up and finished washing the last few dishes that were kicking around. I stared at the spotty floor of my kitchen and bathroom and promised myself that I would clean it very, very soon—but not right now.

I treated myself to a few episodes of the Simpsons and Family Guy (thanks to the help WatchSimpsonsOnline and GizzoD!, respectively), scavenged some more leftovers, and set about finishing my blogging of Friday’s events and some of Saturday.

I had a whole bottle of rosé wine in the fridge, which I opened up to drink with dinner. As I watched the news of Colin Powell endorsing Obama repeat over and over on the Anglophone news networks, I drank my way through the entire bottle and fell soundly asleep.