It’s a small world, and I love you all.

Today, I want to say “thank you” for stopping by to read my blog… not just for stopping by right now, when you’re reading this, but for every day that you come here. Thank you to all of you.

Yesterday, I dug deeper into my stats, just out of curiosity: where in the world are you reading from these days?

The list of countries is humbling. (Note: I can only see countries. I don’t have a sophisticated stat counter that breaks it down to regions and provinces and states and cities and what have you.)

My first post appeared in this blog at the end of 2012. By the end of 2014, you, as a group, represented 96 different countries. By the end of 2015, you represented 106 countries. I can’t say how many countries you represented by the end of 2016 because WordPress didn’t produce annual blog summaries for that year (if they did, I didn’t receive one), but I’m guessing the number would’ve been higher yet… because now, mid-way through 2017, my statistic report says that you’ve come here from 150 different countries. And this kind of blows my mind. Some of you visit from countries that didn’t even exist when I was born.

So if you’re reading this… thank you, wherever you may be in the world. Ideally, I’d say “thank you” in all of your languages; instead, I’m sending serious gratitude vibes to you in your specific countries.

I want to give an appreciative shout-out to you in…

(the countries as WordPress arranged them – in the order of most viewers on down):

United States, United Kingdom, France, Canada, Australia, Germany, Norway, Brazil, Singapore, Spain, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, India, Indonesia, Italy, Sweden, Japan, Philippines, Austria, China, Ireland, Thailand, Taiwan, Finland, Mexico, Russia, Hong Kong SAR China, Switzerland, European Union, Portugal, South Korea, Belgium, Poland, South Africa, Vietnam, Czech Republic, Romania, Denmark, Chile, Argentina, Turkey, Isreal, Greece, United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Columbia, Sri Lanka, Croatia, Peru, Ukraine, Serbia, Qatar, Bulgaria, Egypt, Ghana, Tunisia, Lebanon, Morocco, Slovenia, Lithuania, Jordan, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Estonia, Tanzania, Bermuda, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, Luxembourg, Bangladesh, Algeria, Kuwait, Iceland, Nigeria, Slovakia, Dominican Republic, Cyprus, Iraq, Latvia, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mauritius, Brunei, Kenya, Macedonia, Jamaica, Honduras, Guam, Oman, El Salvador, Bahrain, Georgia, Bahamas, Réunion, Azerbaijan, Laos, Albania, Malta, U.S. Virgin Islands, Myanmar (Burma), Belarus, Ethiopia, Angola, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Guadeloupe, Uganda, Curaçao, Paraguay, Maldives, Mongolia, Åland Islands, Jersey, Syria, Nepal, Moldova, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Fiji, Mozambique, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Isle of Man, Uruguay, Liechtenstein, Cambodia, Zimbabwe, Faroe Islands, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Martinique, Bhutan, Papua New Guinea, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Grenada, Aruba, New Caledonia, Cayman Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Guernsey, Siint Maarten, French Polynesia, and Montenegro.

Again, thank you. Your reading here means the world to me.

Here’s a relic from my childhood:

 

The Ginn World Atlas (California State Department of Education, Sacramento, 1967)

 

This atlas was intended for children. It could be called “My First Atlas” – ! It was published the year before I was born, and it was indeed my first atlas. The same atlas for a child today would look different, because our world is different.

When you think about it, our world is small. It’s amazing to me that now, in the digital age, we’re connected in a way that can be quantified (our energetic connection notwithstanding). We can see the extent of our connection, and that’s nothing short of awesome. It reminds us, for one thing, that we’re diverse and the same all at once. That whatever we’re in, we’re in it together.

Gratitude is a universal feeling, and my gratitude is bigger than I can express. It’s bigger than this small and fragile world.

Every morning, when I wake up, I reflect on all that I’m thankful to have, and that includes all of you who take the time to come here.

Scrabble, Callaghan edition. (+ a favorite vintage commercial!)

Callaghan and I started playing Scrabble last week. Have you ever played Scrabble with an English as a Second Language (ESL) person?

It’s been fun! It’s been interesting and instructive, and it’s a great way for a non-native speaker to learn how to spell words in whatever version of Scrabble you’re playing. (I would love to have a French version.)

For instance, Callaghan’s first move was “ew,” which, according to Merriam-Webster’s (MW) Scrabble dictionary, isn’t playable. “Maybe because it’s an exclamation,” I speculated. He replied that “ew” is NOT an exclamation. It’s a female sheep. See? Now he knows how to spell “ewe.”

Then I put down “pantie,” which he challenged on the grounds that it ends with a ‘y’. MW said that both spellings were correct.

MW’s Scrabble dictionary is a great resource. We pulled it up on Callaghan’s phone so he could have it at his fingertips. He didn’t like that “pantie” came up on the page when he opened it from his bookmark, but that was easily fixed. He deleted the bookmark, entered a new word in the search field, and re-bookmarked it.

Now his dictionary opens up with “igottaewe.”

“Because I learned that a female sheep is a ‘ewe’,” he said, knowing that I was going to ask. “It’s generic.”

Of course!

We decided that we’ll disregard the challenge rule; we’ll both be able to consult our MW Scrabble dictionaries while playing.

The last time we played was Sunday, and he won.

 

The game I lost!

 

On a completely different awesome note, I was thrilled when a reader found this commercial and sent it to me a few days ago. Some of you may remember that I’d been looking for that one Charleston Chew commercial from the 70’s. Thanks to Dirk, here it is!

 

 

Callaghan thinks it’s hilarious, too… even more than I do, in fact. Because he’s French.

 

English Language Colloquial Expressions 101.

Nothing says “I hate my brain” quite like trying to explain English language colloquialisms to a non-native-English-speaking person. I suck at it, anyway.

You could probably spend your whole life learning a second language if you’re after facility with all of its informal expressions. Callaghan made his latest joyful discovery the other day when he wanted to know what’s meant when someone finishes a sentence with, “if I do say so myself,” because, of course, there’s no translation for that phrase in French.

The first time he asked about it – I don’t remember what we were talking about – he cut me off mid-sentence.

“But YOU did it, so why did you say ‘if I do say so myself’?”

I had to stop and think about it, which I’ve never had to do, like, ever.

Expressions can’t be nailed down because there’s usually no logic in such statements, right? After a few false starts, I finally said something to the effect of: “You say ‘if I do say so myself’ in a self-congratulatory context, like when you’re giving yourself credit for something, but you want to be humble about it. It shows that you’re aware that you’re congratulating yourself. A more literal way to put it would be, ‘…if I may be so bold as to display pride in (whatever I did)’.”

By then, I felt like I was babbling, but I forged on to offer an example: “Not a bad job for my first time building an IKEA executive desk, if I do say so myself.”

I felt that this should suffice, but then Callaghan demanded finer-tuned clarification. I was unable to oblige due to the sensation of my brain being beaten with a pointy stick, pointy end first.

“I can’t think of how to explain it better,” I said. “You’ll hear it the next time I say it naturally in conversation.”

Since then, he’s been practicing the phrase with great zeal, inserting it where he sees fit:

“That’s a beautiful-looking moon, if I do say so myself!”

“Very funny.”

“Hahaha!”

I have a lot of patience, I thought. If I do say so myself.

Another time, he proclaimed, “Nice is the most heinous city in the world, if I do say so myself.”

Whereupon I was like,

 

Consult an online English-language resource.

Consult an online English-language resource.

 

Later, he assured me that he was just joking when he said “if I do say so myself” about the moon. He said he said it on purpose, to be funny.

Then he told me that he’d had the hardest time learning the whole “Did not!” / “Did too!” argument little kids get into in the backseat of the car while their exasperated parents sitting in the front try to make the road trip a fun time.

“‘Did not / Did too’ made absolutely no sense to me,” he said. “There’s nothing like that in French.”

I was glad I wasn’t involved in that one.

Because “resolution” without the “re” is SOLUTION.

Like many people, when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I’ve been an on-and-off cynic most of my adult life. My birthday falls five days before New Year’s Day, though, so at some point, I finally thought, Why not turn my personal one-year-older goals into resolutions? Because what are birthdays if not opportunities for introspection and decision-making to move forward with new or refreshed goals, right? Or something like that (says my inner self-help guru to myself).

“Resolution” minus the “re” is “solution,” after all… and that stands out to me. I’m a fan of solutions.

As it turns out, I do well participating in the ritual of making New Year’s resolutions. It’s glorified goal-setting that could be undertaken on any random day, sure, but January 1 is as good a day as any, fanfare or no. If we don’t have the motivation to commit to a goal on any other day of the year, at least there’s that day!

“Goals” is a popular word right now, but I want to talk plainly about how there’s a difference between wanting to achieve goals and needing to achieve them. Resolutions, in my opinion, are goals that we need to achieve; we make them in order to reignite the mechanisms we have for growth, self-improvement, joie de vivre… whatever it is that we’re lacking, in whatever way it needs to manifest. Ultimate goals are things like contentment and productivity. Contentment and productivity are good. People who are content and productive are good for society, good for us all.

You might receive advice that’s actually detracting, usually coming from the hearts of well-intentioned loved ones. There’s the old “…but you have to WANT to do it,” which I think is psychobabble for “You have to feel that doing xyz is going to result in personal gratification, or it’s not worth the effort.” I don’t believe this. Some of my greater achievements in life resulted from goals that I needed to pursue, but I absolutely didn’t want to pursue them.

Quitting smoking, for instance. I smoked between the ages of 15 and 23. I only smoked for eight years, but addiction is addiction no matter how long you’ve had it.

I absolutely did not WANT to quit smoking. I loved smoking. Whenever I’d think about quitting, all I WANTED my next cigarette. When I finally committed to breaking the habit, I still didn’t want to. I did it because I knew that I needed to.

Quitting was every bit as excruciating as I thought it would be.

I quit cold turkey, and I never smoked another cigarette. That was 24 years ago. (I think I was successful in part because I suffered through the process without the aid of chemical replacements. This was pre-nicotine patch. There was nicotine gum, but I wasn’t attracted to that strategy.) Suffering for that victory, that solution to the problem of my compromised health, made me value my success even more. If at any point in my smoking cessation journey someone uttered those condescending words in my general direction – “You just have to WANT to quit!” – I would have had to bite my tongue REALLY HARD. I know why I’m quitting. It’s a decision that I made. I don’t need you to tell me that if I just WANT to quit, I’ll effortlessly break my addiction overnight and ride off on a unicorn into a field of flowers and happy little bunnies.

Overcoming addiction of any kind is never easy, no matter if someone WANTS to do it or not.

But I digress. My point is, make a resolution, for the New Year or on any other day. Think of it as going after a solution. Focus on seizing something that will change your life for the better if you capture it. You’re not just making a change (passive connotation). You’re taking action (aggressive connotation). So be aggressive in tackling your resolution. Be a New Year’s resolution badass. Go for it.

Another thing people commonly say: “Do it for yourself. If you do it for someone else, you won’t succeed.” Again, I disagree. I mean, I don’t think this is always the case.

Last year, my main New Year’s resolution was to go cruelty-free… for Ronnie James, my feline fur-child. As Callaghan and I tried desperately to save his life, I told the Wrah-Wrah that I’d make every effort to avoid purchasing and using personal care products and cosmetics made by companies who engage in animal cruelty practices. (Granted, this wasn’t difficult, as I’d already been boycotting a couple of big-name brands for years to avoid contributing to their human rights violations. Boycotting companies that test on animals wasn’t a far stretch from that.)

I did it for Ronnie James. He died five months into the year, but I’m still doing it. For him. For all animals, but first and foremost for him. And doing it for him has kept me motivated to stick to my resolution more than I would were I just “doing it for myself.” In a strange sense I can’t really explain, the act of consciously and continuously striving to remove myself from the cycle of animal suffering at human hands keeps Ronnie James alive.

This strategy of goal-planning works for me, anyway. Everyone is different, but it might work for you, too. It would be worth trying! Dedicate your resolution to someone who deeply matters to you. Make them a promise you won’t want to break, and you might find that it’s easier to stick to your efforts.

This brings me to Resolutionary Road, 2016! I have more than one resolution. Here’s my list:

1). Get more sleep on a regular basis.

2). Improve my French (conversation).

3). Commit to strength-training.

Getting more sleep was my secondary resolution in 2015. Since I failed completely, it’s at the top of my 2016 list. I really, really need to get more sleep. Here, again, is the difference between wants and needs: I don’t WANT to get more sleep. I WANT the opposite… I want more hours in the day. I want to stay up until 3:00am, because for some reason, I’m often possessed by a rush of creative energy at around 11:00pm every night, and I’m afraid that if I don’t utilize it, I’ll squander it. But more sleep is an absolute necessity for my health, so this year, I’m going to try to shut everything down at 10:00pm so I can be in bed by 10:30pm. I get up at 5:30am on weekdays, so this would give me seven hours of sleep IF I fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow. (Which never happens. But nearly seven hours of sleep would be a great improvement over the four-five hours I typically get.)

I dedicate this resolution to Mom, who always worries that I don’t sleep enough. I don’t want her to worry about me for any reason, because worrying is detrimental to her health.

For my second resolution, improving my French conversation, I simply need to speak more French. I have a bad habit of answering Callaghan in English when he speaks to me in French. The divide between my comprehension level and speaking level is now so great that it’s ridiculous! I have no excuses. I just need to speak it more; that’s the only way I’m going to improve.

I dedicate this resolution to Callaghan, obviously!

As for strength-training, I need to make that a regular part of my workout routine. I’m not weak, but I would feel better in a stronger body. Doing pull-ups in my home office doorway every once in a while isn’t sufficient, and shadow-boxing with dumbbells isn’t cutting it, either. We have heavier dumbbells, so I need to start using them.

I dedicate this resolution to Ming, my best friend who died suddenly in 2003. Ming was one of my Tae Kwan Do instructors, and as friends, we developed a brother-sister bond that made him a member of my family. Ming was an extremely talented martial arts athlete, and his work ethic in the do-jang inspires me to this day. Improving my strength so I can be a better martial artist is my tribute to him.

 

Ming and me, 1996

Ming and me, 1996

 

Happy Resolutioning, if you do it!

Good-Bye, Chili Pete!

Callaghan finally changed his name on Facebook. His old Facebook name had been an inside joke between us, but the joke didn’t translate well in French (I’ve written about this before… people in France thought that his name was “Chili Farts”), and he’d wavered between keeping it and changing it because on the one hand, he liked it despite the confusion on the Gallic side, and on the other hand, who wants to be called Chili Farts?

He finally decided to change his name after conversing with one of his cousins in France. He ended the phone call and shuffled into the kitchen looking mildly perturbed.

“Once again,” he said, sighing and laughing at the same time.

“What?”

“Ambre just asked me why my name on Facebook is ‘Chili Pète’,” he said. “I told her that it’s not ‘Chili Pète.’ It’s ‘Chili Pete’.”

Ambre is his cousin’s daughter. Their family had visited with us for a few days in August. And language is an interesting thing. “Pète” and “Pete” are spelled the same, but that little accent above the first ‘e’ makes the critical difference between a bodily function and a boy’s name.

I’m guilty of omitting the accents in my French writing online because I’ve yet to memorize the alt codes for the different ones, and I’m too rushed to look them up. (I know, I know!) In such cases, the French usually visualize the accents where they should be, since they know the word, itself.

Because that’s what people naturally do when they recognize a word, but it’s missing its accent. They assume the accent.

The French don’t readily associate “Pete” with a name, though, being that it’s short for “Peter” – their counterpart to “Peter” is “Pierre” – but they recognize the word. So when they see it, they visualize its accent: “Pète.”

“The French all pronounce it like that,” he said. “Chili Pète.”

And so he changed it. I changed mine, too, since my fake Facebook name made a matched set with “Chili Pete.” We decided on a new set of inside-joke fake Facebook names with equal (if not better) amusement value.

 

Meet Jack Chirac.

 

The moral of this story is that when your social media audience of friends and family encompasses groups of people who speak different languages, interesting things can happen. Stuff gets lost in translation. Your French-speaking friends will mispronounce your name and you won’t even realize it because you’re bilingual with dual citizenship and you’ve spent years in the States, so “Pete” is self-explanatory to you. It’s all fun and games until the hundredth person asks you why your name is “Chili Farts.”

Nenette – Nounours’ 4th of July kitty

We suddenly have a little girl kitty. To put it more precisely, Nounours suddenly has a new little sister.

We knew we’d eventually have to adopt another cat for Nounours, but if the deciding criteria was going to be me being emotionally ready, I couldn’t see it happening, ever. Losing Ronnie James left an open wound with tattered edges in my heart, and the idea of putting something there seemed excruciating.

But on the other hand, it’s been upsetting to see Nounours so distraught. Nounours would seem okay one minute, then desolate the next. He’d start crying, and we’d rush into the bedroom to discover him rubbing his head on Ronnie James’ urn. Or, on the occasions I’d leave Ronnie James’ urn up on his favorite barstool in the bedroom, Nounours’ yowling-crying would summon us to find him standing on the bed, mournfully facing the urn as if it were an unreachable island barely visible across a vast sea. We’d set the urn back on the foot of the bed, and Nounours would snuggle up to it, quieting down immediately.

We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know how to help Nounours. It got to a point where we started talking more seriously about adopting another sibling for him. I was starting to realize that my own reticence wasn’t fair to Nounours, who had never been an only cat. He was lonely and missing his Wrah-Wrah as much as I was.

Things happened quickly from there.

Saturday morning, the 4th of July, we had the conversation again as we headed to the gym, Callaghan and I. “I’d definitely want to get a girl,” I said, echoing sentiments I’d previously expressed. I thought that a girl kitty would feel less like a Ronnie James replacement; moreover, it wouldn’t be a good idea to bring a strange Tomcat into Nounours’ territory. Callaghan agreed.

So we knew we wanted a girl. We also knew that we wanted her to be a full-grown adult, but one who was younger than 10-year-old Nounours. Nounours has a generous maternal streak, and we thought that allowing him to indulge it would help him to feel less lonely. It seemed that a slightly younger kitty would be a good fit for lovable, cozy Nounours and his penchant for cuddling. “Five at the youngest,” I thought out loud. “Maybe five or six….” Callaghan thought this would be ideal, as well.

But again, we shelved the conversation without making a decision. We got to the gym and went to Body Combat.

Not two hours later, we found ourselves peering into a clear Plexiglas case at PetSmart, where we’d stopped to get more treats for Nounours. Inside the case was a little girl whose tag read that she was six years old. (But she was so small!) Her tag also told us that she’s an Abyssinian/Manx mix. The Abyssinian part explained her beautiful, dark-golden ticked coat. The Manx part explained her lack of a tail.

She looked so sweet and sad. As we held her gaze, her waves of loneliness cut through the Plexiglas to touch us. We learned that she’d belonged to family who’d “run into hard times.” They were being evicted, so they surrendered her to the shelter. She’d been at the shelter for over a month.

When we left PetSmart, my heart had been replaced with a ball of mixed emotions, which I promptly expressed on Facebook. Some of my friends – you know who you are! – were so encouraging and supportive and wonderful, commenting and texting me. The conundrum was that (in accordance with policy) the adoption folks wouldn’t hold her for us for even half a day, even if we paid the fee; if we wanted to adopt her, we had to make the decision and do it tout de suite. It would have to happen quickly, lest someone else swoop in and adopt her!

We went back.

We changed her name. It was funny how we arrived at it: I suggested “Nenette” – we both wanted a French name – and Callaghan replied with, “My Godmother’s name was Nenette!” I hadn’t known that. (Also, we found out later when talking to Maman, Callaghan’s Mom, that “Nenette” had been slang for “chick” in France back in the 60’s and 70’s.) We both loved the name, and it suited the little girl. Nounours et Nenette. We purchased a nametag and fed it to the engraving machine at the front of the store before leaving.

 

She already knows her new name.

She already knows her new name.

 

At home later that evening, we sat in the living room and watched as Nenette explored her new forever home.

Here’s one of the first pics I took of her:

 

Part-Abyssinian, part Manx, Nenette has no tail (a characteristic of the latter).

Part-Abyssinian, part Manx, Nenette has no tail (a characteristic of the latter).

 

Sometimes, the way she moves her head reminds me, comically, of a velociraptor à la Jurassic World, and I want to call her “Blue,” my favorite (kick-ass female) character in that movie. Other times, her shy expression reminds me of Princess Diana, and I want to call her “Lady Di.”

 

Nenette on the small round ottoman in the bedroom (7/6/2015)

Nenette on the small round ottoman in the bedroom (7/6/2015)

 

Her shy expressions remind me so much of Princess Diana!

Her shy expressions remind me so much of Princess Diana!

 

As I post this, Nenette has only been here for about 60 hours, so she’s still getting acclimated to her new home and to the three of us. Nounours started showing interest in her within 24 hours, but his tentative approaches drew soft hissing. Nenette will need some time to develop trust and confidence. We suspect that she’d been either neglected or otherwise mistreated in her past situation(s).

 

Nenette has the uniform, ticked coat of the Abyssinian, with velvety soft fur.

Nenette has the uniform, ticked coat of the Abyssinian, with velvety soft fur.

 

She’s as much an Abyssinian/Manx mix in her personality as she is in her appearance. She’s talkative, but her conversational voice is soft and extremely feminine, and I do mean girly-girl-level feminine, with her quiet mewing and trilling sounds. At the other end of the spectrum, we never heard a cat yowl as loudly as she did in the carrier coming home from the shelter! It was funny to think that such a sound could come from this tiny, adorable little being. This kitty has quite the vocal range. She loves the scratch pads we have all over the house, even though she’d been declawed (to our horror). We’ve also observed that she’s intelligent, inquisitive and playful… and she’s quite skittish. When people come over, she disappears beneath furniture whether the visitors ring the doorbell or not. But overall, she seems to be adapting quickly.

 

We thought this pink heart tag said "Nenette" even before we engraved it, so it was the obvious choice.

We thought this pink heart tag said “Nenette” even before we engraved it, so it was the obvious choice.

 

As of yesterday, she and Nounours have been on nose-touching terms. Those brief touches are a magical balm for Nounours, as he seems to be more at peace now than before we adopted Nenette. We’re looking forward to the day we find him nurturing her!

I wanted to capture an image of Nounours and Nenette together, but it’s too soon for such an opportunity. Last night, when I went into the bedroom to take a picture of Nounours by himself, I found him like this, as usual:

 

Nounours still missing his Wrah-Wrah dearly.

Nounours still missing his Wrah-Wrah dearly.

 

Wrah-Wrah will always be with us, and I like to think that Nenette understands that she has two big brothers to adore her. We love her, too. Nenette has been a blessing for us all. The only promise we can make to her is that she’ll be unconditionally loved for the rest of her life.

Lost in Translation: L’Etat des Restos de Montréal.

Have you ever experienced an amusing “lost in translation” moment?

Let me preface mine with the assertion that I’m NOT making fun of Callaghan’s French accent. Honestly, I don’t even notice his accent most of the time, especially since some of our French friends’ accents are so thick that Callaghan’s is comparatively nonexistent (to my ears, at least). But there are times, usually when we’re with other people, when I realize that, yes, he does have an accent. Someone might ask him to repeat something, for instance, or something he says might be misinterpreted. This was the case when we went to my friend’s wedding last month.

We were sitting at a table with a few of my co-workers, as the bride was a friend from work. Callaghan wasn’t the only one with a foreign accent… we also had accents from Australia, Germany, and Ethiopia at our table. Such is the beauty of the States, right? So anyway, as conversation flowed lightly along, Callaghan mentioned that he’d heard about a new law up in Montréal. (It’s not uncommon for Montréal to come up in conversations with work friends, since our department maintains a strong historical, collaborative relationship with our Director’s former unit up there. It’s like our sister unit.)

“Apparently, in Montréal, they passed a law,” Callaghan told us. “Now it is illegal for a terrace to be across the street from a restaurant.”

Maybe it was the abruptness of his announcement that threw us off, along with the strangeness of the news and the quirkiness of his English as a Second Language syntax thrown into the mix… or maybe it was his pronunciation. Probably, it was a combination of all of the above that resulted in momentary confusion. On my part, while I thought I understood what he’d said, I was hesitant to believe it. Others at the table either didn’t hear him, didn’t understand him, or couldn’t grasp what he’d said. What ensued was a bombardment of demands for a repeat of the statement. We all needed clarification.

“Terraces can’t be across the street from restaurants in Montréal anymore,” Callaghan said.

There was a pause, and then, at the same time someone exclaimed, “I thought he said ‘terrorist’!” another person blurted, “WHAT? Montréal passed a law making it illegal for TERRORISTS to be across the street from a restaurant?”

Cue hilarity.

“No more terrorists across the street from restaurants in Montréal!!” exclaimed Callaghan. The rest of us were cracking up along with him.

“Calling all terrorists! You can no longer be across the street from a restaurant!” One guy boomed to an imaginary crowd of terrorists clamoring to get across the street from a restaurant in Montréal.

We couldn’t stop laughing, none of us, including me, and that was a blessing.

Because the date was May 16, and my beloved Wrah-Wrah hadn’t even been gone for 48 hours. When Callaghan and I walked into that wedding an hour earlier, I was in the worst possible place mentally and emotionally, utterly devastated and absolutely not in the mood to go anywhere or see anyone… but I wasn’t about to miss my friend’s wedding. She and I had been talking excitedly about her big day for a year, and there was no way I was going to fail to show up!

To complicate things further, Wrah-Wrah’s ashes had been brought to our door as we were getting ready for the wedding, so minutes before leaving, I was standing in the middle of the living room with his little urn held close to my heart, thinking, How am I going to get through a social event right now?

The answer was in the question. It was the social event that got me through the rest of the day, and that absurd and perversely funny “lost in translation” episode was a big part of it. I found myself reflecting on the keen truth of the cliché that laughter is the best medicine. A few moments of bubbling mirth that evening had granted me a much-needed respite from emotional pain, if only fleetingly.

It was also a blessing to be able to sideline my grief while focusing on the celebration of someone else’s pivotal life event, and sharing the experience with a fun group of people helped tremendously. I mean, it’s impossible to not smile and laugh while holding hands with others and running through the room during the Mexican wedding dance, let me tell you! Mexican weddings are good fun, and it was just a joy to see my friend looking so radiant and happy.

And what of that strange new law in Montréal? It turns out that Callaghan wasn’t remembering it correctly, anyway… the crux of the law is actually the space on the sidewalk between the terrace and the street, which Montréal says should be a meter and a half to allow for wheelchair passage. We had a case of a telephone game mix-up merging with linguistic misinterpretations! And that’s how you get from wheelchair sidewalk access to “no terrorists allowed in front of restaurants in Montréal.” Human communications can be a riot when there’s a glitch in the lines.

Speaking of terraces, Callaghan (being French) refers to our back patio as a terrace (la terrasse); the other day, we rearranged our small signage collection out there and hung our handy zombie warning sign prominently in the center of the main wall (with a nod to my zombie experience last week):

 

It should say, "TERRASSE INTERDITE AUX ZOMBIES" (NO ZOMBIES ALLOWED ON THE TERRACE)

It should say, “TERRASSE INTERDITE AUX ZOMBIES” (NO ZOMBIES ALLOWED ON THE TERRACE)

 

Like this:

 

To match the "NO DOGS ALLOWED ON THE GRASS" sign beneath it.

To match the “NO DOGS ALLOWED ON THE GRASS” sign beneath it.

 

I’ve always enjoyed this sign, but I have a whole new appreciation for it now.

Chili Pete strikes again.

Our trip to France gave me a good opportunity to strengthen my French a little. I enjoy learning new words, slang words, like “la thune” (money) and “les potes” (friends). I’d already known those two particular words, but it was cool to hear them in the flow of other peoples’ casual conversations.

Speaking of French slang, right before we left for our trip, Callaghan had a dubious moment of discovery about his online (Facebook) identity. He was talking to one of his French clients on the phone and hung up with a strange look on his face. His expression fell somewhere between chagrin and despondence.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“I just realized something,” he said. “I was talking to Patrick at the bug shop, and this other guy Marc was there, and Patrick told him that if he’s looking for me, he can just look on Facebook for ‘Chili Pete’ – ” He paused.

“And?”

“He said ‘Chili Pete’,” he repeated, exaggerating the “Pete” part.

But he pronounced it the way it would be pronounced in French: “Pet.” Because “pète” is, in fact, a French slang word, and Patrick is French, so when he sees “pete,” of course he’s going to say it the French way. “Pet.” Even without the accent. Which means –

“Chili farts,” Callaghan grumbled. “‘Chili Pete’ means Chili farts in French!”

That would be “farts” as in the verb. Poor Callaghan… he looked like his world crumbled with the realization that his Facebook username is “Chili farts” in French, yet he laughed with me when I busted up laughing, so obviously he wasn’t too upset about it. And that was good, since I was the reason his name got changed to “Chili Pete” in the first place. (It’s a long story that some of you may remember… it started because of an inside joke about a mistake in an ophthalmologist’s notes.)

Just out of curiosity, I went to Babylon.com and plugged in “pete,” sans accent. I wanted to see if it would pick up the slang, and it did:

thatasianlookingchick.com-CaptureChiliPete4

Incidentally, “pete” was also a slang term I’d heard before, but I didn’t know it was spelled like Pete. Now I know!

Callaghan's Facebook banner.

Callaghan’s Facebook banner.

ALSO, while we’re looking at Chili Pete’s Facebook banner, I should just add that he loves taking pics of the word “bite” whenever he sees it, because it’s French slang for “dick.” Usually, the word “bite” appears on food packaging and advertisements in grocery stores, which creates rich hunting grounds for linguistic dick jokes.

On that note, now that I’ve somehow managed to touch on both dick and fart jokes in French, it’s time for me to turn my attention to work. Happy Friday, all! =)

Body Combat en Français!

My triceps are sore today, and I love it!!

Perhaps the best thing about Les Mills International is the “International” part. It means that their classes are held in 20+ countries, so it’s feasible to get in your usual workout even when you’re traveling overseas. Thanks to our friend Chantal, we were able to do Body Combat with her at her gym yesterday. She got the passes for us in advance, and we found a Thursday 6:30pm session at her gym’s Cannes location (she usually goes to the one near her in Villeneuve-Loubet). It fit into our schedules perfectly.

 

Well isn't that convenient!!

Well isn’t that convenient!!

 

I didn’t know what to expect going in. Would the instructor teach the class in French or in English? If in French, would I understand the martial arts-specific terminology in the commands? I didn’t think so. Callaghan, who usually prefers to be in the back, graciously agreed to stand near me so I could look over and see what he was doing if I got lost. I stood in the center of the second row, between two people in the front row, so I could see myself in the mirror. Callaghan stood behind me and to the left. Chantal took a place next to him, directly behind me.

Here’s kind of how it went:

1). The instructor did, indeed, teach the whole class in French. (I learned a new word, “crochet,” which means “hook.” Makes sense.)

2). He started out explaining that he was substituting for the regular person. He wasn’t the usual instructor, so he was new to everyone, not just to us.

3). Unlike in Arizona, Callaghan was the only guy in the class.

4). Some of the tracks were familiar, while others totally weren’t! And that was good. There was some music I’d never heard, and moves we hadn’t done in class before. Those were probably older tracks.

5). The instructor was high-octane and clearly trained in martial arts.

6). There was a T.V. with a running loop of fitness footage that Callaghan said was distracting him.

7). Today, I feel it in my upper body. 10 days is a long time to go without working out when you’re used to going 3x/week!

It was fantastic, and it felt AMAZING to work out again after ten days of nothing (lots of walking and impromptu fake Parkour in Paris notwithstanding).

On that note, I’ll leave you with a few pics:

 

I took some of these brochures for souvenirs.

I took some of these brochures for souvenirs.

 

The group fitness schedule is posted on the classroom window, like at our gym. Unlike our gym, though, it's packed with classes.

The group fitness schedule is posted on the classroom window, like at our gym. Unlike our gym, though, it’s packed with classes.

 

The vending machine at FitLane is all Evian water, except for two rows of snacks at the top. Something you'd never find in an American vending machine: Madeleines. There's no junk food in our gym in Arizona, at all... just energy drinks, protein shakes and water.

The vending machine at FitLane is all Evian water, except for two rows of snacks at the top. Something you’d never find in an American vending machine: Madeleines. There’s no junk food in our gym in Arizona, at all… just energy drinks, protein shakes and water.

 

A last look on our way out. Au revoir, FitLane!

A last look on our way out. Au revoir, FitLane!

 

Happy Friday, All! =)

On the Craft of Translation (or, Fun with Subtitles)

Up until recently, Callaghan knew what he was getting himself into when we’d sit down to watch a French movie with English subtitles. He knew it would be a matter of moments before I’d hit “pause” and turn to him, exasperated.

“He said blah-blah-blah, but the subtitles said that he said blabbity blah-blah,” I’d complain. “Why?”

Callaghan saw what I meant, and he didn’t know why, either.

 

Me and my three-ton French-English dictionary.

Me and my three-ton French-English dictionary.

 

It used to irritate me a lot when subtitles didn’t reflect the spoken word. It didn’t matter that most of the time, I understood what was being voiced, because that wasn’t the point. The point was hearing and understanding the spoken French while reading the written English and THAT’S TOTALLY NOT AT ALL WHAT THEY SAID.

I mean, okay, there’s a wide range. There are literal, word-for-word subtitles. There are ballpark translation subtitles, where the meaning is basically the same, but the words are different. And then there are subtitles that have nothing to do with what was being said in French, and we’re both just, like, Huh? What were they smoking when they wrote these subtitles? We’re talking completely out of left field subtitles.

But my attitude toward the matter of subtitles changed the other day when an interesting task crossed my desk at work. I was asked to help our German artist/professor write the English subtitles for the short film he’d made.  Suddenly, I was on the other end of the issue. I had to write the subtitles.

Herr Z. and I went through the dialog line by line, starting and stopping so he could tell me what had been said in German. He’d paraphrase what the guy said, then he’d ask, “How would you get that across in English?” Or, “How would you express this in English?”

And there it was… my duh moment.

NEWSFLASH TO SELF: “How would you get that across in English?” and “How would you express this in English?” are NOT the same questions as, “What is the literal translation of this sentence in English?”

Turns out that throughout the German footage, I offered very few instances of literal translation. At almost every turn, I wrote the subtitles based on how American English speakers would most typically say it. I got the meaning across accurately, but often not literally. Distinguishing between “accurate” and “literal” was the key… that, and the realization that translating is as much a creative process as it is a linguistic one.

There are a dozen or so literary prizes out there for translations; it would go to follow that, as in anything, some translators who write subtitles are more talented and skilled in their craft than others. A good translator can deftly exercise creative muscle to capture the meaning of words using other words in order to give the other-language-speaking viewer the essence of what’s being said.

I knew this academically before I helped to write English subtitles for German film clips, but I didn’t connect personally with the craft of translation until that moment. Until that moment, I was too busy hitting “pause” after every line in my angst-filled bursts of self-righteous That’s not what he said! Why doesn’t the subtitle say what he actually said?

I was indignant because I was trying to learn, but in focusing so hard on trying to improve my French, I was allowing myself to get confused by any deviation from the literal. I was missing the forest for the trees, so to speak.

I was also overlooking the simple and obvious fact that translation is an art, and, like any other art form, it’s as much about expression as exactness, if not more so. There are a myriad of ways to say any given thing, so if the literal translation isn’t as impactful as the original… if the mood, tone, energy, or emphasis of the original version starts to fall away in the literal translation… artistic adjustments can be made without losing the essence or integrity of the expression.

Furthermore, when writers of subtitles make artistic decisions in their translations, they can do so because there’s more to communication than the actual word. You have the idea, itself, and then you have disposition, emotion, psychological state, body language, etc., altogether creating a rich, multi-dimensional expression, a nuanced expression. I imagine there’s more room for authenticity to slip in when a holistic approach is taken, anyway, especially when there’s depth and complexity in the original writing.

Another aspect to consider is the fact that sometimes, there is no equivalent for an expression in the other language, which creates a whole new challenge for the writer of subtitles. There are some idioms and ways of saying things that are simply unique to their original language, so the best you can do is approximate. Again, doing this well requires talent and skill.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, it could be that some people are just poor translators, or they really were smoking something when they were writing the subtitles. These are certainly possibilities, too!

(Callaghan just remarked that he’d like to see a film in Quebecois with French subtitles, which threatened to start a whole new conversation about how pure Quebecois is virtually incomprehensible to the French, though “people in Quebec know how to speak more French to the French so we can at least kind of understand them.”)

At any rate, thanks to Herr Z and his German footage, I was able to gain a new perspective on the craft of translation and the art of writing subtitles. I’m guessing that the next time we watch a French movie, the subtitles won’t irritate me nearly as much as they have in the past.

On that note, Happy Friday, All!

How to Swear in French, New Car edition.

Sadly, we had to give up our 1999 Toyota 4-Runner, Stevie. She was sweet and quite amazing for her age, but a few months ago she’d started stalling while idling, just at random. Even more disconcerting, the frequency of the stalling episodes was increasing along with the intensifying heat. The day Stevie stalled mid-turn, we knew we had to replace her with something reliable, because the REAL heat hasn’t even hit yet! I wasn’t feeling confident driving her, and I didn’t want to find out how she would react when the temperature climbs up into the 110-115 range.

You don’t mess around with potential car trouble in the summer in Arizona. That is one of life’s absolutes.

Such as it was that we found ourselves at a car dealership a couple of weekends ago – a Chevy dealership, because I’m predictable like that. What can I say? I learned to drive in a Chevy truck, and my last vehicle was a Chevy truck. From Corvettes to trucks, I love Chevrolet. So does Callaghan. After a full day of deliberating and negotiating at the dealership, we leased a new (very pale, silvery-blue) Equinox and drove her off the lot.

Since then, we’ve been bouncing names around, trying to decide what to call her. My first idea, “Samaire,” caused Callaghan to burst out laughing when I suggested it. Of course, in that same second, I realized why.

“Samaire” is pronounced like the French sa mère, which constitutes the second part of Putain de sa mère! – Callaghan’s favorite expletive to yell when other drivers on the road annoy him. “Samaire” would be a terrible name for our new vehicle. If we were to call her “Samaire,” Callaghan would always be yelling that she’s a whore, because “putain” is French for “whore.” Her feelings would be hurt.

“‘Sa mère!’ means, like, ‘F*ck!’ – you know?” Callaghan said, launching an elaborate discourse on the versatility of the expression.

And here I always thought that since mère means “mother,” putain de sa mère was somehow the French equivalent of Samuel L. Jackson’s trademark word, even though that’s not what it actually means… putain de sa mère translates as “his mother the whore,” according to Callaghan.

Well, all that aside, I’ve never had trouble naming a car before we brought this girl home. After two weeks, we still had no idea what to call her. Yesterday, just as we were discussing names such as “Libbets” (after Katie Holmes’ character’s name in The Ice Storm), “Jorie” (after Jorie Graham, a postmodern poet whose work I particularly like), and “Persephone” (the Greek Queen of the Underworld, and also the Goddess of spring/vegetation), we went to get the mail. In the mail was a large yellow envelope from the Motor Vehicles Division, and inside was obviously a license plate.

“Yay! Let’s play the license plate game!” I said when I saw it.

“What is that?” Callaghan’s education in American culture is an ongoing process.

“It’s that game where you look at a license plate and quickly say the first word it spells or brings to mind.”

“Maybe it’ll be her name!” He said it just as I was thinking it.

We opened the envelope. The license plate read:

 

New license plate for the new girl.

New license plate for the new girl.

 

“BUGSY!” We shouted at the same time, cracking up.

See how that works? Just as we’re talking about how we don’t know what to name her, her name arrives in the mail! Et voilà.

Happy Friday, All!

PHA!

When Callaghan decided to create an Etsy shop for his art, we got right down to brain-storming names. “First name, Last name Art” wasn’t doing it for us, and neither was “Callaghan Art.” He wanted the word “Art” in the shop’s name, but he didn’t want to use his legal name or his former professional nom de plume.

We mused on the possibilities for a few moments.

“How about,” I ventured slowly, “‘PHA!’?”

It seemed like a logical suggestion, as Callaghan’s been signing his drawings, paintings and illustrations with “PHA!” since he was six years old. He’s gone through phases of signing in other ways, but he always goes back to “PHA!” – in fact, in the four years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him sign any other way. “PHA!” is his original, default signature.

 

Callaghan's signature on one of his latest works.

Callaghan’s signature on one of his latest works.

 

“True! I’ve been signing as ‘PHA!’ my whole life,” he said enthusiastically. “I can call the shop ‘PHA! Art’.”

Silence as his words lingered in the air.

“Oh… no,” I said, the realization hitting suddenly. “You don’t want your shop to be pronounced…”

“PHAART.” He finished my sentence with a low, drawn-out utterance, then repeated it: “PHAART!”

We were in the truck, on the road, laughing wildly into the hot, dusty wind.

It reminded me of Samuel L. Jackson raising hell on Twitter while watching basketball, as he did last week during the Spurs vs. the Thunder playoffs game, and the Pacers vs. the Heat: “Muphuggaz,” “MUFUKKAS,” “Muthaphukkaz,” “MUTHAFUQQA” and “Muhfugga!!” are just a few examples of the creative spellings he comes up with (for his signature word).

He doesn’t just use it for sports, though!

 

CaptureSamuelLJacksonStarWars

 

For Callaghan, “PHA! Art” would indeed be an unfortunate business name. Since you can’t use exclamation points in usernames, his URL would be “www.etsy.com/shop/phaart,” and his email address would be phaart@something.com.

“My address could be “PHAART@yourgeneraldirection.com,” he said, getting into it.

“Maybe you could just use ‘PHA!’ by itself,” I suggested.

He hasn’t decided yet for certain, but we know that “PHA!” will likely be a part of his shop’s name somehow. I’ll report back once his shop is up and running, lest your curiosity slay you.

Happy Friday, All!

Callaghanisms

I’m coming at you at 2:10AM because weird schedules are weird. Alors, bonjour, mes amis Français! Ça va bien? Il est onze heures dix du matin là-bas… vous avez fait de beaux rêves?

I’ve said this before: Callaghan’s English is excellent, and his French accent is so slight that I usually don’t even notice it. But every once in a while, he makes mistakes, and when his accent does reach my ears, it’s often to amusing effect. For instance, he says “fuckus” instead of “focus” (I think I’ve mentioned this in the past), and “bitch” instead of “beach.”

The examples I’m providing below all came directly out of Callaghan’s mouth verbatim, and in complete seriousness. I wrote them down after he said them. Yes, I’ve been keeping a file of the Callaghanisms. They’re priceless.

Let’s get started!

 

Focus:

“My friend Christopher had a Ford Fuckus.”

“I’m tired today. I can’t fuckus.”

 

Beach:

“When we’re in Antibes, we can go see the bitch.”

“Tomorrow we’ll visit the bitch of Normandy.”

 

And other words with the long ‘e’ vowel sound, such as…

 

Sheet:

“I need a shit of paper.”

“Let’s put the shits in the laundry.” (my personal favorite!)

 

I’ve started picking up on some patterns. Here are three, with examples:

 

1). Combining non-American word usage with a French accent results in dialogue like this:

“In high school, my nuts were great!”

“Your NUTS?”

“Haha! My notes. My grades.”

“Oh.”

School grades in France are called “les notes.”

 

2). Direct translations don’t always work:

“That spider is waving at us with its paws.”

“Paws? Haha! That’s so cute!”

“Spider paws.”

“Spider legs.”

The French call spider legs “les pattes,” which is also their word for “paws.”

I love this mistake. I wish we said “spider paws” in English.

 

3). Some words are easily confused:

“Sorry I’m eating like a pork.”

I giggle.

“What’s so funny?”

“The expression is to ‘eat like a pig’.”

In French, the word “le porc” refers to the meat of a pig, just like in English… but it can also be used as slang in reference to a person. Unlike in English.

After I wrote this post (which pretty much wrote itself, since I had all the Callaghanisms saved in a file), Callaghan decided that it was lacking a drawing of a French superhero, so he offered to whip one up for me:

 

French superhero Super Dupont in progress!

French superhero Super Dupont in progress!

 

And now, a bonus! I’ll sign off with a French film recommendation for your weekend… because I’ve been glancing up at this DVD while writing about humorous French-to-English accent and translation goofs, and the two things somehow go together. This film is a quirky black comedy, and I think it’s brilliant. It’s been my favorite French black comedy since I first saw it back in the 90’s.

 

My favorite French black comedy. Notice I've leaned it up between Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe.

My favorite French black comedy. Notice I’ve leaned it up between Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe.

 

Delicatessen was directed and co-written by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who directed and co-wrote the more well-known film Amélie about a decade later. Both comedies are off-beat, but Delicatessen is quirky and dark where Amélie is whimsical and light. Both are quite funny in their odd little ways. Hey! These two complimentary Jean-Pierre Jeunet films would make for a great movie night double feature, n’est pas?

Bonsoir, et bon weekend à tous!

The Darkest Hour

Right now, as I witness a number of my friends working through some pretty daunting life challenges with strength and courage, I’m inspired to muse on my default coping strategy. I prefer the word “strategy” to “mechanism” because it’s action-oriented, but the one I have in mind is actually more of a simple trick.

The idea is to navigate hardships with the cautious confidence of a surfer standing, feet planted on her surfboard, on the crest of the wave rather than flailing every which way in a murky turmoil, struggling in the lung-burning angst of one who gets pulled underwater and tossed around… right? Like everyone, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the bewildering throes of the latter. I thought I’d relay the trick that pulls me up and out, since I’ve been thinking about it.

That is, I think about words and language a lot.

I’m talking about popular axioms in the forms of adages and idioms, proverbs and platitudes. Many of these are interchangeable, these banal sayings and feel-good, preachy expressions, and they’re clichés. They’re filler material in our lexicon, the expressions that writers are advised to avoid. If we want to write in those terms, we’re told, we can apply for jobs writing for greeting card companies or cranking out fortune cookie fortunes. We’ve developed such a knee-jerk reaction against these age-old “words of wisdom” that our eyes start to roll before we even finish hearing them, and we tend to feel insulted when someone throws one at us in the depths of our struggles. A saccharine platitude weighed down with didacticism all dressed up in a cheery tone of voice makes for a hell of a life raft, even if the people offering it have their hearts in the right place.

 

Definition: Adage (Merriam-Webster)

 

But I’m thinking maybe it’s different when you repeat those tired, trite expressions to yourself, because they have a way of getting me through when I’m the one using them to coach myself along. In keeping with the definition of “filler material,” the words are always right there, spilling out over the edges. The trick is to start paying attention to them, at which point you can turn them over in your head, repeatedly, performing a sort of mental twiddling of the thumbs. Then the expression takes on the function of background music, and somewhere in the repetitive space of this thinking about it without thinking about it, a sedative effect comes over you, numbing you so you can forge ahead. Dull pain is still pain, but it’s manageable, and you can work through it.

Maybe I’ve just described the power of a mantra, which would suggest that you don’t have to read tomes on Eastern philosophy, convert to Eastern religion or become a yogi to experience this effect. Ordinary Western sayings can work as mantras, too.

A perfect cactus bloom from my house in a past life.

A perfect cactus bloom from my house in a past life.

 

It began in elementary school when I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s On the Banks of Plum Creek and came across the adage “the darkest hour is just before dawn” for the first time. Aside from finding this to be a metaphorically beautiful expression, it just resonates in a way that other, similar sayings don’t.

Now, when the cyclical rhythm of life gears down to “Low” and I find myself spiraling off into what I call The Great Abyss of WTF for a stay of indefinite duration, that old adage comes clanging back at me like a rabid cow with tricked-out bells… yet somehow, the accompanying sound is sonorous rather than cacophonous.

“The darkest hour is just before dawn.”

Many of these expressions of age-old wisdom often ring true. It’s maddening, but expressions get overused for a reason. “Things will get better.” Circumstances in life usually do get better, but not, for some reason, before they get worse. In fact, things often have a way of getting exponentially worse just when you’re thinking that they couldn’t possibly. Right after that, though, something happens… you reach a breaking point, and then you get a consolation prize! That’s the magic. The breaking point is where the magic happens. The breaking point creates a wellspring of potential. Disaster prompts action, action leads to change, and change leads to improvement. Or, change leads to sub-sets of challenges – small steps, baby steps – that will inevitably lead to better times. “The darkest hour is just before dawn” is a potent reminder. In retrospect, I can spot the breaking points in my life and see clearly that they were just turn-around points, flashing with the lessons I needed to learn.

“Hope for the best, but expect the worst” is also helpful. For me, this proverb provides encouragement to proceed with cautious optimism and requires just a bit of old-fashioned samurai stoicism.

“This, too, shall pass” comes to mind, but this expression is more of a reassurance than a warrior cry for perseverance. It’s useful when you want to will yourself through some sort of unpleasantness. It’s what you think when you’re sitting in the dental hygienist’s chair and she’s earnestly working away with that sinister, metal tartar-scraping hook thing pierced halfway into your gum-line and she hits a nerve – zing! – every other second, and you find yourself holding your breath while your fingers curl into fists until your nails dig into your palms and sweat pops out of the pores all over your body. Breathe. This, too, shall pass. (And then it does, and then you’re fine, until the next cleaning appointment rolls around six months later.)

It’s when situations in life get tough that I brace myself for the darkening and I actually hear those words in my head, repeatedly, mantra-like: “The darkest hour is just before dawn.”

It’s true that “things could always be worse,” but this adage doesn’t inspire or motivate me in any way. It’s merely an observation, and an annoying one, at that. “Things could always be worse” is the “You don’t have the right to feel that way because that’s a FIRST WORLD PROBLEM” adage.

Yet, perspective is a profound thing, and perspective is the take-away from “things could always be worse.”

For instance, when I came back from six months in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait during the Gulf War, I didn’t have a bad hair day for literally years, because the concept of a bad hair day is inconceivable once you’ve lived in the desert with no semblance of civilization for six months and your main concern each day is whether you’re going to live to see the next. Good/bad hair doesn’t factor into survival mode. I was able to wash my hair every once in a while out there, but it was a tedious and dicey affair (you’re vulnerable when you wash your hair!) that required using rationed water. We had small bottles of Pert (Shampoo and Conditioner in One!) that were either issued or donated… I don’t remember which, but I remember that its fresh, green scent in my hair was an unspeakable luxury once the hair-washing production was over. (I haven’t used Pert since, but I would probably recognize its scent instantly.) That’s what clean hair amounted to: an intermittent, tense luxury. 23 years later, I now certainly do have bad hair days, but I haven’t forgotten. It’s the little things, and I don’t take them for granted.

“The darkest hour is just before dawn” is my favorite adage because it does inspire and motivate me. It turns out that a lot can be done in the dark. You can do some of your best creative thinking in the dark; sight deprivation amps up your remaining senses, and with that bolstering comes an almost supernatural ability to strategize your way out of your predicament. Perhaps this is partially why some of the most compelling poets and writers in history wrote from dark places, oftentimes chronically. It’s like The Great Abyss of WTF was a grungy old motel they checked into one night and never left. (Sadly, many brilliant poets and writers died in that darkness, dissolving into addiction or turning to suicide… but they left us with a body of written work that will inspire and captivate people until the end of time.)

Another thing I do when facing extreme difficulty is I veer in the opposite direction and convince myself that the worst-case scenario will happen, and I focus on that. I plan for it. This may sound counter-intuitive, and it goes against all the variations on the “Envision your perfect situation and it will happen!” theme popularized by the self-help genre of the last 20 years. (The Secret, anyone?) But somehow, focusing on the worst rather than on the best has been a tactic that’s been of enormous benefit to me. (Here, I’m tempted to segue into the topic of Buddhism, but I’ll save that for another post.)

To focus on the worst is to put yourself in survival mode, and there, you begin to craft an action plan, since there’s nothing else to do. Once you’re in survival mode, you’re forced to take steps, many of them drastic. The alternative is to perish. That phrasing might sound dramatic, but that’s how it feels… and besides, presenting yourself with a life or death proposition works. As you funnel your energy toward that darkest imaginable place in your future, you suddenly find a). solutions to problems in unexpected places, and/or b). that while you were busy preparing for the worst, things were actually getting better… and the amelioration of your circumstances came about while you weren’t looking directly at them.

This is not as passive an approach as it sounds. The human mind naturally searches for solutions in everything, I think, even if we’re not aware of it. We take pleasure in solving mysteries and riddles and identifying patterns and finding answers. With our vision muddled, we discover other ways to make sense of things. Such as it is that things evolve… and that evolution happens in the dark.

The darkest hour is just before dawn.

 

Spring in the desert is always the dawn!

Spring in the desert is always the dawn!

 

What I’ve come to realize is that the darkest hours are important. The darkest hours are hard, but they’re also the pivotal, life-altering and transformative times that are essential for growth and the wisdom we need to prepare ourselves for future hardships, because there will always be future hardships. No one is exempt from the vagaries of life.

A penultimate favorite quote: “In the end, everything will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Now those are fighting words! If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

And finally, you know what they say: “When nothing goes right, go left.”

Which is about change. It’s all about change, and progress through change. It’s revitalizing. It allows me to be the surfer standing on two feet on the crest of the wave not only with determination, but with joy, as well. There’s a sense of liberation there, and the view is stunning.

Pardon My French (OOTD)

We have a running joke about pictures of me in t-shirts, Callaghan and me, and it’s been a while.

So, here’s one from yesterday:

 

Oversize shirt speaks volumes.

Oversize shirt speaks volumes.

 

I remember the first time I wore this shirt. We went to Fry’s Electronics, and the guy stationed at the EXIT door asked, “Do you really speak French?” as we were leaving.

“Yes,” I answered. But barely, I finished in my head.

That’s meaning number 1: “Pardon my French” in the literal sense, because my French is full of holes.

Meaning number 2: “Pardon My French” is American slang for, “YES, I SWORE,” often with the snarky sub-text of, “SORRY I’M NOT SORRY.” It’s a handy way to acknowledge that you used profanity while expressing that you don’t care. I tend to swear freely in casual conversation… not angrily, just casually. (It’s a habit I should probably lose, but I can switch it off when appropriate, so why bother?)

All in all, “Pardon My French” is an easily understandable expression t-shirt for me. It’s also one of those shirts you want to live in because it’s so soft and thin and comfortable. It’s voluminous – long and loose with tight sleeves – and it’s gray, my favorite color.

 

 

Happy Friday, All!

As every writer would tell you: Word Choice. It cannot be underestimated.

Quick – what’s one way to get people to recycle?

Allow me to show you Arizona State University’s approach:

 

ASU tells it like it is.

ASU tells it like it is.

 

Employ the power of a visual via the power of language, et voilà! “Trash” is no longer an option. Just guilt. Carry on.

I have to hand it to Tempe… it’s become downright unceremonious around here. With parking meters that read “dead” and “fail” and trash cans labeled “LANDFILL,” the euphemism is going the way of the dodo bird.

(I was amused to see these relatively new trash cans all over campus yesterday… you know I had to share!)

In other news related to sights around town, I realized, on Saturday evening, that there’s a fisheye setting on my camera. We found ourselves attending a get-together on a seventh floor deck, and thanks to my accidental discovery, I got this shot of downtown Tempe:

 

Downtown Tempe (from the seventh-floor deck of W6).

Downtown Tempe (from the seventh-floor deck of W6).

 

Happy Tuesday!

Confession: My Extreme First-World Problem

I woke up this morning and spent a good ten minutes processing the dream I’d had. It involved the revelation that Callaghan and I are geniuses via the supernatural elderly woman who transformed herself into a giant, fiery flower waving to and fro in our direction on a cold, cindery street corner, city unknown. Later, in the back room of a small shop, it was revealed that she was eastern European, but she’d resided in Quebec the last half of her life, so she was technically a Québécoise with a Slavic accent. Once we found out that she’d lived in Quebec, the dream language switched to Quebec French embellished with the beautiful, curly linguistic mood of Hungary or Romania or wherever it was she’d originally called home. But the shop – their family business – projected such a powerful Old World vibe, I felt like we were back in Europe as we sat drinking tea with the woman and her grown son.

It was her son who explained that when his mother transformed into a giant flower made of flames (we could just see her face in the center of it, her mouth opening and closing rhythmically in a mysterious mantra-like communication we couldn’t hear nor fathom in any other way) and waved herself in our direction from the street corner, we were able to see her because we were geniuses. “Only geniuses can see her when she transforms,” was how he put it. It wasn’t the first time we’d seen her, either. Earlier in the dream, she’d appeared on another street in the same city, also transformed, but differently, intoning the same unintelligible sounds at us, trying to tell us something, the same thing, words that were never deciphered. We just understood that they comprised a warning of some kind.

We were not pleased to learn that we were geniuses, because the price of that “gift” was this wraith-like figure in the shape of a flower on fire chanting ominously about what we assumed would be our ultimate demise… something horrific, for sure. Better to be dumb and happy, we thought. Ignorance is bliss.

There was a lot more to the dream, but I’ll leave it at that because the dream was not what I wanted to talk about today.

Ahem.

Today, I wanted to make a confession. A humorous little piece about “extreme first-world problems” recently surfaced on my Facebook feed, which got me thinking… what would be my own most extreme first-world problem? The answer came easily, as it’s something I’ve been lamenting for a while now.

Let me preface this by saying that I tend to think we should be allowed to kvetch a little when life’s inconveniences snag the flowing fabric of our day without feeling guilty because OH MY GOD THAT’S A FIRST-WORLD PROBLEM, but there is a line, as with everything. There’s always a line. It’s the extreme first-world problems that should warrant our guilt, and I certainly feel guilty about mine.

Are you ready?

My most extreme first-world problem is this: I’ve been to Paris five times, but somehow, inexplicably, I’ve never visited Jim Morrison’s grave.

 

Stock photo of Jim Morrison's grave. Not mine. WOE IS ME.

Stock photo of Jim Morrison’s grave. Not mine. WOE IS ME.

 

This is a ridiculous complaint by anyone’s standards, so I think it qualifies as extreme. I mean, try to tell me it does not put some of the extreme first-world problems cited in that article to shame. I’m not proud of this, but it is what it is. What kind of an American am I to have been to Paris five times and failed to EVER visit Jim Morrison’s grave?

To balance things out here, I must say that I’m grateful for every one of my many visits to my beloved Eiffel Tower, and I never take her for granted.

I’m sure as hell going straight to Jim Morrison’s grave the next time I land in Paris, though.

Holiday Spirit in the House

Okay, since my last post, we relented and turned on the heat! We set it to 68F, which is perfect… you would never know that it’s cold outside, especially with the bright sunshine coming in. Also…

 

Someone thoughtfully put Styrofoam cups on these babies in front of our apartment. Cactuses need cold snap care, too.

Someone thoughtfully put Styrofoam cups on these babies in front of our apartment. Cactuses need cold snap care, too.

 

(I never say “cacti,” by the way, even if it’s the more accepted plural form of “cactus.” Cactuses! Cactuses! Cactuses! I love that word. I find it more lyrical and adorable and appropriate for their personalities. “Cacti” sounds so coldly scientific to me.)

The weekend was full of things to see and art to admire. The main streets of our neighborhood were closed off for the Tempe Festival of the Arts, an event that happens every year in the fall and the spring. It’s fun, and it presents a great opportunity to purchase gifts from an enormous and diverse gathering of artists.

 

We weren't allowed to photograph the artists' work, so here's a pic of a fire truck from 1959, instead (in front of the Mission Palms hotel)

We weren’t allowed to photograph the artists’ work, so here’s a pic of a fire truck from 1959, instead (in front of the Mission Palms hotel)

 

May I just say that I loved that parking wasn’t in the equation this year, since the festival is now just a stroll down the street! We wandered through about half of it, speaking with some of the artists along the way.

 

Cards from some of the artists we visited at the festival.

Cards from some of the artists we visited at the festival.

 

Continuing the holiday spirit at home, last night we enjoyed a lovely and unexpected discovery at the bottom of a box that’d been in storage since I’d moved to France – the Christmas wreath Mom had given me! Which I’d thought was long gone. Which had me feeling kind of heartbroken all day the day I’d thought it was long gone. It’s here now, along with some other things I’d thought had gotten lost in the shipping!

 

Honey, I'm home!

Honey, I’m home!

 

 

We hung it on the inside of our front door so we can admire it (and not worry about it walking away).

We hung it on the inside of our front door so we can admire it (and not worry about it walking away).

 

Happy Monday!

Something for my French-Speaking Friends. And Yes, We Are 13.

You know that moment when you’re walking through a store (Whole Foods) and you spot something that translates to something hilarious in another language (French), so you whip out your camera, and while you and your partner in crime (Callaghan) are busy cracking up and taking pictures, an employee comes over and asks what’s so funny… and you don’t know how to answer? Yeah, that’s like the only kind of awkward I don’t mind.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-HardBite-1

 

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-HardBite-2

 

Hardbite.* What? They’re just potato chips!

Okay, I think it was a “you had to be there” moment. Carry on.

—–

(*”bite” is French slang for a certain part of the male anatomy)

 

Getting Settled

We left Texas a week ago today, and it doesn’t feel like it at all. In other words, time flies. In yet more words, holy crap, we’ve already been gone a week?! Much progress has been made, though. We’re not quite finished unpacking, but we’ve got all of our books situated, which means that we’re home. Home is where the books are arranged on shelves, I always say.

On the kitty front, Ronnie James and Nounours are thrilled to be here. We have a little bedroom hallway in this apartment, an interior configuration they’ve never seen before. We put their favorite rug and one of their scratch pads there, and they adore it.

“It’s not a hallway,” Callaghan remarked wisely. “It’s a hangway. Where they hang out in the way.”

Living with Callaghan is a treat for a lover of language. Hangway. I never would have thought to invent such a word!

Here are the kitties chilling in the dining area, another favorite spot of theirs:

 

From the French Alpes to the desert in the American southwest, Ronnie James and Nounours are a well-adapted pair.

From the French Alpes to the desert in the American southwest, Ronnie James and Nounours are a well-adapted pair.

 

Ronnie James on alert, as usual. Nounours crashed out, as usual.

Ronnie James on alert, as usual. Nounours crashed out, as usual.

 

Sleeping and yoga - the two things kitties do best.

Sleeping and yoga – the two things kitties do best.

 

 

 

Happy Friday, All! Excuse me while I dive into the remaining boxes!

“Gargarisms.” Just Try to Deny the Awesomeness of that Word.

The other day, Callaghan got up from the couch and announced, “It’s time to do your gargarisms!”

It was one of those moments I had to just sit and mull over his words for a few seconds. (It happens every once in a while.) Then I realized that he’d gone to the kitchen and taken a glass from the cabinet, and he was standing in the half-moon light of the open refrigerator door, pouring carbonated water into the glass, and it hit me: he was saying that it was time to gargle.

Context is a wonderful, helpful thing.

“Un gargarisme,” Callaghan explained over my burst of hilarity, “is how you say it in French.” But he was cracking up, too, as usual.

That was our first good laugh of the week. Gargarisms! I had to do my gargarisms, yes. And that is a brilliant new word, I thought.

The greatest part of the story, though, is that when I went online to look up “gargarism” (thinking that someone else might have found it funny to twist the verb “to gargle” into a noun), I discovered that it actually exists!

 

 

Gargarism(wiktionary.org)

 

The noun is classified as “obsolete,” but it’s legit nonetheless. I’d learned a new word! Two new words, in fact, since I learned both the English and the French versions.

Anyway, I started doing the gargarisms with soda water this week at the suggestion of a medical website in an attempt to get my throat to stop attacking itself,* as it’s been stuck in a cycle of producing mucus as a response to nothing at all, causing me to have to clear my throat all the time. I mean, ALL. THE. TIME. This started back in December, almost a year ago, so I’m really kind of over it at this point. The V.A. is sending me to speech therapy, because sometimes that can help. Pending that, pass the club soda so I can do my gargarisms. (I cannot get enough of that word. GARGARISMS!)

 

—–

*I have autoimmunity, which means that my body habitually goes on sprees of attacking itself (meaning, me). It does this at random and as a response to stress and sometimes for no reason at all. Some of my problems are chronic (Autoimmune Thyroiditis, aka Hashimoto’s Disease; Reynaud’s Phenomenon). One is chronic and currently in remission (Sjögren’s Syndrome). I’m on the appropriate meds, and things are being managed just fine… except for the thyroid disease, which has recently decided to overstep the bounds of its medication. We will be having none of that! A batch of increased Synthroid prescription is in the mail as we speak, so hopefully I’ll feel less tired once I switch to the higher dosage.

 

Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

I remember reading about the French film Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) in The New Yorker and thinking that I really wanted to see it. This was back when it came out in 2007. Somehow, my mental note got lost in the drifts of clutter in my brain, and it wasn’t until yesterday that it fluttered up to the surface and I finally saw the movie. I’m so glad that I did, because it’s a stunning piece of cinematic art, and, as cliché as this sounds, my life is richer for having seen it.

This is the true story of French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby (former editor-in-chief of Elle magazine), who suffered a stroke, fell into a coma for three weeks and awoke to find that he couldn’t move, speak or swallow. It was determined that he had Locked-In Syndrome. Fully cognizant yet unable to communicate, his entire body paralyzed except for one eye, medical circumstances had sentenced him to a life of confinement: His body had become his jail cell.

Jean-Dominique was known as “Jean-Do” by his friends, a fact that forms a poetically interesting, rueful sort of coincidence. “Jean-Do” is pronounced like the English “John Doe,” which is the generic name American hospitals and authorities commonly assign to men of unknown identities… men with amnesia, for instance.

Jean-Do Bauby did not have amnesia. He knew exactly who he was. He could only move his left eye, but with the use of that single, flickering movement, he managed to write an entire book – his memoirs, entitled Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), in which he detailed his experience with Locked-In Syndrome and included some of his life prior to his stroke.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-Scaphandre

 

Jean-Do literally wrote this book with his eye. Every day, an assistant sat with him for hours reciting the letters of the alphabet arranged in order of “frequency of use.” He would blink his eye when he wanted her to stop on a certain letter, and she would write the letter down. In this fashion, he was able to form words. It took the duo almost a year to complete the book.

Years later, screenwriter Ronald Harwood’s exceptional adaptation of the book led to the production of the film, and with that, director Julian Schnabel gave us a profound experience… he gave us an inkling of what it must be like to be imprisoned in your own body. Frankly, for me, watching this film was harrowing; I was completely taken in and consumed by it. It was like being immersed in visions that triggered sensations, emotions and mental states, as Jean-Do was immersed in the deep blue depths of his isolated existence. Laced with internal dialogue, the film is a strangely beautiful collage of scenes from a dream-like inner life, flights of freedom through imaginative interludes interspersed with flash-backs and reality dappled with horrifically potent drops of fear, loneliness and regret.

“Other than my eye, two things aren’t paralyzed, my imagination and my memory,” Jean-Do said, unforgettably (those words have haunted me since). I doubt that he experienced writer’s block while working on his book. It’s humbling to realize that I, with my two fully-functioning hands and ten fully-functioning digits, am often more paralyzed than he was when writing. Where most writers at least occasionally struggle with paralysis in their minds as they stare at the blank pages before them, Jean-Do was free.

Let’s Have a Little Levity Now, Shall We?

Our (U.S.) government closed up shop the other day, as you all likely know.

My thoughts on the government shutdown have lingered as an irritating background noise in my head as other, Super Secret Important Stuff has been unfolding rapidly on the personal plane of our lives – I’ll probably write and share it with you sometime next week – but meanwhile, we have good old @KimJongNumberUn chortling all over Twitter:

 

CaptureKimJongNumberUn1Oct2013

 

Yes, I can hear the underlying gloat and tone of his post, and that’s definitely chortling going on beneath his sarcastic ruefulness. I’m designating “chortle” as The Word of the Day, because it’s a word I’ve always loved.

 

CaptureChortleMerriamWebster

 

Thanks to KimJongNumberUn for providing an example so I don’t have to use it in a sentence!

Presenting the Mythical Nounours – Another Cat Post, but the OTHER Cat!

If you read this space regularly, you know Ronnie James by now. He’s featured in most of the NOT UNLIKE banners of Callaghan’s creation. You couldn’t be blamed if you’re unaware that we have another cat, Nounours, since photos of him rarely appear here. For one thing, he often stashes himself away under the bed during the day (the French reflexive verb “se cacher” for “to hide oneself” is so perfect… it’s one of my favorite French verbs), making himself unavailable for the camera. It’s even harder to photograph him being comparable to something else (as in the NOT UNLIKES), because he’s the kind of cat who tends to look the same in every picture.

Nounours! The Cat Formerly Known as “Bruce Willis,” who, in concept, actually started out as one of The Three Stooges.

It was about this same time last year that we arrived at the decision to get cats. After my feline daughter Detta’s disappearance, we were missing kitty paw-steps in the house, plus we had an issue with rodents in our little wilderness abode.

Our initial idea was to adopt three adult males and call them “Larry,” “Curly” and “Moe” after the guys in The Three Stooges, but we reconsidered, deciding that just two cats would be better.

We brought the big guys home and named them Ronnie James (after rocker Ronnie James Dio) and Bruce Willis (after the actor).

Ronnie James learned his name right away, immediately, on Day One… but Bruce Willis never responded to his. The name just did not work for him. Calling “Bruce Willis!” would get us nothing but completely ignored. It was like he hadn’t heard us at all.

 

Nounours (formerly known as Bruce Willis) on the left, Bruce Willis on the right. UNLIKE.

Nounours (formerly known as Bruce Willis) on the left, Bruce Willis on the right. UNLIKE.

 

He did learn his nickname, though: “Nounours” (“teddy bear” in French). Eventually, we gave up on “Bruce Willis” and officially changed his name.

 

The French medical passport of the French Nounours, pictured wearing his French beret. But he was born on the 4th of July!

The French medical passport of the French Nounours, pictured wearing his French beret. But he was born on the 4th of July!

 

But! As it turns out, Nounours, when he decides to show expression, DOES resemble one of The Three Stooges – Curly. He’s like Curly in other ways, too. He’s round, warm and friendly. He’s rather slapstick in his behavior, and he’s not, um, the sharpest blade in the drawer. He pokes his brother and tumbles around. He’s a total goofball.

Yesterday, he happened to be out and about, and he was being unusually expressive, so I capitalized on the situation and spent some time stalking him with the camera. Hence, I can present the first NOT UNLIKE featuring Nounours!

 

Nounours on the left, Curly from The Three Stooges on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

Nounours on the left, Curly from The Three Stooges on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

 

Have a great weekend, Everyone!

How to Spend an Evening in Rome

This little Sesame Street Bert doll moved into the apartment with us and sat in our linen closet up until yesterday.

 

The Bert for Kitof.

The Bert for Kitof.

 

I do remember when Callaghan found it at the store, soon after we got back to the States, but a lot has happened since then. Over time, it just became a part of the interior landscape of the closet… I’d see it without really seeing it. It was like ET amongst the stuffed animals. So when it reappeared in the room yesterday, I needed a reminder: it was for one of Callaghan’s French friends, Kitof, who’s in Texas this week with his wife and daughter. We met them downtown late yesterday afternoon for Congress Avenue Bridge bat-viewing and dinner at Hut’s Hamburgers. (Their vegan veggie burgers are fantastic, by the way!)

“So what’s the story behind Bert, again?” I asked Callaghan as I was sitting at my desk. He’d told me once, like three years ago, which is evidently past the expiration date on the part of my memory that stores that sort of information.

“The story behind Bert? Oh, well!” He heightened his voice with a grand flourish. “It’s because Kitof and I were fans of Ernie and Bert when we were kids, so we really like them… and it does happen from time to time that we do impersonations. So when I found this little Bert, I got it for Kitof’s birthday, since they’re coming here.”

“Cute! Wasn’t there also, like, an incident involving Ernie and Bert?” I had this hazy inkling that there were specifics I wasn’t remembering.

“Oh, that. Yeah.” His voice returned to normal. The most exciting part of his story had been told, so there was no need for dramatic emphasis on what he was going to say next. “One evening in Rome, we sat in the hotel watching videos of Ernie and Bert.”

It took me a second to process this.

“You guys were in Rome and that was how you spent the evening… watching Ernie and Bert?”

“Yeah!” he laughed. “It was just Rome.”

It was just Rome. Europeans!

“Uh… did it occur to you that it was weird?” I mean, ROME! I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me being American, but when someone begins a sentence with “One evening in Rome,” I kind of expect something other than Ernie and Bert to follow.

“No, it wasn’t weird. It was Ernie and Bert. We’re pretty good at impersonating them in French, too!”

Callaghan stood in the doorway and started to affect the muppets’ voices.

“Bart! J’ai soif!” he lisped in Ernie’s high-pitched voice. Then he dropped his voice to a nasally low and growled: “Hé Ernest! J’aimerais bien dormir!”

He turned to look at me. I wasn’t in my chair anymore. I was on the floor, laughing.

He ignored my hysterics and went to his computer, found the clip online and sent it to me. Thus, I can share it with you:

 

 

De rien! You’re welcome!

It’s in French, obviously, so I’ll summarize: it’s the episode in which Ernie and Bert (“Ernest and Bart” in French) are in bed, and Bert’s trying to sleep. You know the one. Ernie is thirsty, and he unwittingly keeps Bert awake as he talks to himself, coming up with silly ways to combat his thirst (including drinking imaginary mineral water). This concludes with Ernie finally getting up to get real water. But when he gets back into bed, he still can’t sleep… because by then, he’s hungry! And Bert’s like, WTF… I can’t win.

 

Bert sitting next to Callaghan on the 1M, going downtown. Keeping Austin Weird.

Bert sitting next to Callaghan on the 1M, going downtown. Keeping Austin Weird.

 

And here’s the sky full of bats! We actually missed their emergence from under the bridge… I took this picture while we were walking along the river. We’ll have to try catching them another time.

 

Bats! (les chauve-souris)

Bats! (les chauve-souris)

Warning: This Post Contains a Fruitchouli-Scented Explosive and Dragons. And Football Players.

First things first: THE HOUSTON TEXANS, NFL Football! I’m ashamed of myself… I failed to include them in my post about Texas teams. Apologies, Texans!

There’s this saying in American English (here’s a short lesson in American slang for you non-Americans): When something’s really spectacularly, unbelievably, out-of-this-world awesome, you can say, “It’s the bomb” – just like that, really stressing “the bomb” part. This comparison of something super delightful to a destructive explosive in order to emphasize the extreme wonderfulness of the super delightful thing comprises fairly common slang here in the States.

Putting it simply, to say that something is “the bomb” is to give it the very highest praise.

Therefore, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I came across a bottle of perfume in the shape of a hand grenade (a small bomb that’s made to be hand-thrown), even though the perfume’s designer isn’t American. The bottle caught my eye nonetheless, and yes, it does now reside on my bathroom counter, and yes again, the fragrance it contains is, in my opinion, the bomb. Callaghan loves it, and I’ve received several enthusiastic compliments on it from strangers both on the bus and on the street.

 

"Exotic" by Jimmy Choo

“Exotic” by Jimmy Choo

 

I’m not 100% positive that the designer intended for the bottle to resemble a hand grenade. That’s just the first thing that comes to my mind when I look at it. It’s like the ink blot test of perfume bottles.

It was a gift, and I adore it.

“Exotic” is actually an eau de toilette, not a perfume, for those who are interested in the technicalities of things. It smells like a bunch of berries and vanilla and flowers and stuff thrown on top of patchouli, which I normally don’t like. So it’s basically a fuchsia glass fruitchouli-scented hand grenade sculpture, and it’s wonderful.

(Don’t worry. I’m not aspiring to a career as a fragrance reviewer.)

On another note of uncanny resemblances, Callaghan’s been remarking for a while now on the likeness between Ronnie James and Night Fury the Dragon in the film How to Train Your Dragon, so he made a NOT UNLIKE picture to demonstrate it:

 

Ronnie James on the left, Night Fury in "How to Train Your Dragon" on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

Ronnie James on the left, Night Fury in “How to Train Your Dragon” on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

 

…and another one:

 

Ronnie James on the left, Night Fury from How to Train Your Dragon on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

Ronnie James on the left, Night Fury from How to Train Your Dragon on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

 

And that is why one of Ronnie James’s nicknames is “Precious Angel Baby Bunny DRAGON.”

Happy Friday!

I AM DYING TO SUBMIT THIS PICTURE TO ENGRISH.COM

My parents recently went to Hokkaido for Dad’s annual Japan summer golf trip. As usual, shortly after their return, a package arrived for me because Mom went shopping and thoughtfully sent a few things my way. For quite a few years now I’ve been using random Japanese and Korean beauty products from Japan and Hawaii, and they’re amazing. (Not sure whether any of the brands are tested on animals. I know to avoid stuff made in China, but I have no idea as to the others.)

Here are some of the things that arrived last week:

 

Background: facial gel exfoliator and foaming cleanser (both made in Japan); Juicy Drop BB Cream (made in Korea) Foreground: a variety of sheet masks (all made in Korea)

Background: facial gel exfoliator & foaming cleanser (made in Japan); Juicy Drop BB Cream (made in Korea)
Foreground: a variety of sheet masks (all made in Korea)

 

A fun by-product of getting Asian cleansers and creams and such is the Engrish you’re sure to find on the packaging. In case you didn’t know, “Engrish” is the result of humorously botched English translations from some Asian languages; there’s a website that pays homage to it. Product packaging is a fairly reliable supplier of examples, and this blog post right here exemplifies why I would be a terrible beauty blogger: my amusement and enthusiasm in sharing the Engrish on the labels outweigh my interest in telling you about the products, themselves.

Behold:

 

This is the foaming facial cleanser... "Washing Form" in Engrish.

This is the foaming facial cleanser… “Washing Form” in Engrish.

 

(Not sure why there’s a picture of a horse on the bottle. Not sure I want to know why, either.)

Now take a look at THIS. I hope you can read it (click photo to enlarge). This is the text on the back of the one sheet mask that’s not an Epielle – it’s the one to the far left in the array photo above, with the woman’s face in the picture:

 

Contains beauty gredients for skin activity in the sheets! Helps horny clear up! Put a water skin on the face. TAP YOUR FACE FOR BEING ABSORBED COMPLETELY INTO YOUR FACE. Keep it coolly at the case status and use it.

Contains beauty gredients for skin activity in the sheets! Helps horny clear up! Put a water skin on the face. TAP YOUR FACE FOR BEING ABSORBED COMPLETELY INTO YOUR FACE. Keep it coolly at the case status and use it.

 

Awesome, right? And, bonus… it really is a lovely product!

How Do You Say: “I was all, like, whatever! They were, like, totally making out!” in French?

Last night, my computer warned me that I had 11% battery power remaining. “I’m running out of juice,” I said to Callaghan, who was lying next to me reading a Jack Reacher novel.

“Are you getting tired, Baby?”

“No, well maybe a little, but I mean my computer needs to be charged.”

“Oh I thought it was YOUR juice that was running low!”

“HAHAHA….”

“No! No! I didn’t mean it like that. I meant it in a way, like, your juice, you know?”

“Even more….” I couldn’t stop giggling. You had to be there.

“You’re crazy.”

Fair enough. But that’s beside the point.

The point – I mean, the thing this calls to mind – is that verbal exchanges like this exemplify why I don’t want to speak just French with him. It would be boring, and “boring” is not allowed. The “B” word goes against our marriage contract.

Callaghan lived in the States for a decade spanning his 20’s to 30’s; he thinks like an American, and he enjoys speaking American English. Since the nuances, tones, innuendos and linguistic flavors (along with expressions and slang) are what endow a language with its personality, and since the personality of our relationship is American, the character of our verbal communication would change if we were to speak only French with each other. The components of the French language’s personality don’t translate to American English, and vice versa. Even though Callaghan and I often have a good laugh over his English mistakes, our relationship wouldn’t really be us in French, no matter how fluent I get. That’s where the threat of boring would come in.

To put it simply: It would be tiresome trying to keep the joy of our conversations afloat without the American English dips and waves and tides that define our rapport.

While we see nothing wrong with conducting our relationship in English, it slows my progress in improving my French, which I, of course, should do. After all, I live here in France. The last thing I need is border patrol running after my ass to throw me out because I want to “press 2 for English” on the phone.

The crux of the matter is that we live in the wilderness in virtual isolation.

For Callaghan, living with me in isolation is like living in the States again.

For me, living with him in isolation makes me forget that I’m in France.

And for both of us, excursions out serve as reminders that I need to be more immersed in society (in order for French to come more naturally to me).

Thus, I’m happy to have the opportunity to take a French course, which the government will provide for free. Yes! Eight hours a day, three days a week, for three months, I’ll sit in a classroom with other foreigners, learning French with a teacher whose mission in life is to bring French-as-a-second-language people up to speed so we can get jobs. (Callaghan says this is a part of the government’s “secret plot to turn us into slaves like the rest of the French population.” But that’s neither here nor there.)

The more I think about it, the more pleased I am… I’m actually ecstatic and impatiently waiting for the letter that will tell me where and when to go.

Meanwhile, I’ll attend my Orientation to Life in France, where I’m assuming they’ll teach me the proper way to do a champagne toast. Can you believe it? I’ve been in this country for over a year, and they’re just now setting me up with French and champagne toasting lessons! Hey – maybe they’ll also teach me skills such as entering a French roundabout without getting killed!  Gee Willikers, Batman!