Cock-a-doodle-doo

It’s been over a month since the start of the Lunar New Year. The year of the rooster began on January 28. For us Chinese (and several other Asian ethnicities), it’s the chance for a sense of rebirth on the heels of the Gregorian New Year, just shortly after the French stop saying “Bonne Année.” Not only that, but the celebration goes on for two weeks.

I follow the superstitions surrounding the Lunar New Year, just in case. Clean the house the day before but not the day of. Eat three good meals. Eat long noodles. Don’t get your hair cut. Wear red.

Did I mention eat well?

On New Year’s Day this year, a group of friends and I had lunch in New York Chinatown. Our ringleader was my friend who is Chinese-born. Then there was me, who is Chinese American, and seven non-Chinese Frenchies, several of whom had spent a few years in Beijing.

Perhaps you know how it goes in Chinese restaurants. Rather than ordering our own entrées, we ordered dishes to share (though this place lacked a lazy susan, which would have made second helpings easier). After a meal of fish (presented in complete form), lobster, meat, eggplant, noodles, rice, and more, we wandered out into the streets to watch the dragon dance, in which several dragons accompanied by loud drums went from door to door. Businesses put money in their mouths for good fortune. Sidewalk vendors sold long cylinders that when snapped in half, popped and shot confetti into the air. Kids threw fake firecrackers on the ground that made a loud noise upon impact.DSC00187DSC00188DSC00189DSC00190

About a week later, I came across these fierce dragons near Times Square. Though they’ve apparently been there since last fall, I hadn’t noticed them up close, and they seemed particularly appropriate to take a walk around and greet for the New Year.

DSC00208

DSC00210DSC00209

They made me smile. How could they look so ferocious and joyful at the same time? It must have been the heart and happy faces on their noses.

I am still finding confetti. Today I was sitting outside and saw a piece of shiny pink confetti on my pants. It must have fallen out of my purse. That’s how you know you celebrated New Year’s well.

A Screwball Comedy

What is, My life as a film?

I have been wearing tall black boots almost every day to work. I like them a lot, but I’m tired of wearing the same thing. They’re just the best winter footwear I have that are appropriate for work.

One night this month, I was inspired to dig out my black loafers from my closet. I’d worn them probably once or twice in the past eleven years. Overall I had used them for only one or two years in high school. My little Catholic grammar and high schools required a uniform, and for years I had worn variations of black laced shoes and black loafers. While it was exciting to make the change from laced shoes to loafers in seventh grade, once I went off the college, I never looked back at those loafers.

Once in a while, when going through my shoes, I would take them out, admire how new they still looked, and decide to keep them for when I needed an extra pair.

That moment finally came recently. I thought they looked pretty smart with my jeans and black turtleneck.

The next morning, I took the bus, then the subway. Halfway through my walk from the station to work, I felt a loosening around my right foot. I looked down, disconcerted.

My shoe had come apart around my foot.

I couldn’t believe it. The edge around the toe of the shoe had partly broken off, and the sole had broken in half. I could see the bottom of my cat socks.

I knew that rubber band in my purse would one day come in handy. I wrapped it around my shoe and gingerly walked to work.

At my desk, I contemplated how to go about the rest of the day. Unfortunately, I had a meeting in about fifteen minutes across the street and had to remedy the situation immediately. It was clear that one rubber band wouldn’t prevent the half-sole from slipping away from my foot.

I started to color a rubber band with a permanent black marker, then quickly abandoned that idea. Did you know that the texture of a rubber band doesn’t lend itself to marker?

I stuck some scotch tape on the bottom of my shoe. It was like dropping a square of toilet paper in a large puddle.

I wrapped about ten rubber bands around the top half of my shoe. That should hold it together for  now.

Now, how to disguise my collapsed footwear?

I looked at the stash of small plastic bags on my bookshelf. A standard white plastic bag would make it too obvious that I was trying to hide a problem. I decided to go in the other direction and selected the bright red plastic bag and tied it around my shoe, knotting it at the bottom. Maybe it was so flashy that people would assume it was a style choice. This was New York, after all.

img_20170216_101555460

My brief foray across the narrow street to my meeting made it clear that there was no way I could walk all day in this shoe, let alone commute home. It was falling apart.

Luckily, I work in a neighborhood with a lot of stores. DSW, the shoe mecca, is under a ten minute walk away if you’re walking at a normal pace. I, however, was walking with a slight limp to avoid creating too much movement of the various separated pieces of my shoe. This did not work at all, and I ended up stopping six or seven times on my walk to readjust the tectonic plates, which were rapidly slipping away from the desperately clinging rubber bands and now tired-looking red plastic bag.

My low point was when the plastic bag blew off, and after quickly considering whether to let it go, I ran to retrieve it and wedged myself between a mailbox and a trash can to retie it under my shoe. It had torn from the walking, and I wasn’t sure if it would make the block and a half to DSW. At this point it wasn’t just to keep up appearances, but to keep the moving parts together.

The employee at DSW looked down at my shoe as I walked towards the clearance section. To her credit, she greeted me normally. I responded brightly.

I scored silver booties for $17.98 after a 70% reduction. I’m not sure it was fair to be so richly rewarded for my foolishness.

I don’t know what the lesson is here. Choose one that suits you: Always keep an extra pair of shoes at work. Shoe glue expires. Things aren’t made the way they used to be. Don’t neglect a pair of shoes for eleven years without expecting a revolt. Always stay within half a mile of a DSW. Shame is real. Leave loafers in school.

Snowshoeing without Snowshoes

I skipped out of work a couple of hours early (having worked late several evenings this month) and hopped on the Metro-North train to visit a friend who got married last summer. A few weeks prior, I was sitting in a restaurant next to three young women, one of whom was espousing the line to her two friends: “The Metro-North is the way to travel. It is like, so sweet.” I’m not sure I would go that far, but it does tend to be on time (great if you’re early, out of luck if you’re running late).

My friend and her husband picked me up from the train station in New Haven, Connecticut. Along for the ride was their big Doberman puppy, who jumped all over me as soon as I got in the back. She alternated between being very conspicuous—bounding on me and chewing the crocheted lanyard on my bag—and almost invisible, as she is black as that Friday night.

In their town about half an hour’s drive away, they had left their door unlocked for the other friend who would be joining us for the weekend and had arrived shortly before. We certainly weren’t in Kansas anywhere—or maybe we were closer to Kansas? In the Jersey suburb where I’m from, we wouldn’t leave the door unlocked if we weren’t home.

Here were wide open spaces. A long, wide driveway leading up the house. Peaceful, snowy trees out back. Birds flitting around a feeder on the deck. A kitchen that could fit two, perhaps three Parisian studios.

The weekend was a lovely one, with a BIG pancake (to quote the menu), laughter and talks, the making of not one but two cakes, music and movies, cuddling with the two dogs, and a hike up snowy hills and along a frozen reservoir.

In Paris I used to visit a friend in Marseille every few months. Since coming back to the States, I’ve done the same with my friend in Connecticut. The Metro-North is not quite the same as the TGV, but it’s still “like, so sweet” since it takes me to scattered parts of my heart.dsc00223dsc00224dsc00226dsc00229dsc00234dsc00235dsc00237dsc00240dsc00242

Multiplication is the Answer

I think about my friend Donna around this time of year.

In one of the cheesy Family Circus comic strips, a woman asks the mother of the family, “How do you divide your love among your four children?” The mom answers, “I don’t divide it. I multiply it.”

To me Donna was that comic in action, and I remind myself of both whenever I feel jealous of someone’s tie with another.

At her funeral, I remember realizing how far her reach extended. She had touched many individuals throughout her life. She had always made me feel special, and to know she had made others feel the same way brought home that there is not a finite supply of love. Caring for one person doesn’t have to diminish tenderness for another.

This should be obvious. I have family and lots of friends, a number of whom I consider close. Those in my circle are all important to me.

However, the same way a woman might criticize her appearance but be generous in assessing others, jealousy can creep in unwarranted.

Remembering Donna is like throwing a fist in the air and exclaiming that we have an immense capacity for feeling.

The second thing I sometimes think about since losing Donna: no one is replaceable. I’ve met smart, thoughtful people since her, and I have friends and acquaintances who support me and whom I root for. But no one is quite like her, and no one does it quite like she did. I suppose that’s awful and awesome at the same time.

Estoy nerviosa

I was a bundle of nerves even before I left work. I wasn’t hungry enough to eat the dinner I had packed, but I gulped a yogurt and a pudding in succession to stave off hunger over the next couple of hours. I get peckish if I don’t eat frequently.

On the subway, I was so nervous. I also realized that this is what I was missing recently. I’m a thrill seeker. Are we all? I don’t feel inclined to go skydiving or try drugs, but once in a while I love that feeling of stepping outside of my comfort zone and doing things that are in no way dangerous but make me feel uncomfortable.

Life is pretty exciting when there’s all that buildup just for a Spanish II class. The drama, the drama.

The reason I had jitters is that the last time I took Spanish was a year and a half ago. I had started from zero, and while I had practiced vocabulary and grammar a bit since then, I had never become comfortable enough to try speaking with people conversationally, and I didn’t know how much I had forgotten. What if I was way behind all of my classmates? A language course is not the type of class where you can sit in the back and blend in if you’re not prepared; the whole point is to be put on the spot and talk.

This is how it goes when you take a class that is held in a New York City high school, or my experience anyway:

– You take the subway, ascend out of the station into the busy night streets surrounded by skyscrapers, and pass a hotel and Duane Reade on the way to the school. You forgot that school entrances have so many doors in a row in order to allow large quantities of students to enter and exit.

– You flash your ID at the three employees in the lobby. Are they all security, or is just one on duty and the others are hanging out? Seems like a lot of people to be present when there’s not a lot of foot traffic in the evening.

– Your class is on the fifth floor, and you ascend via escalators. For some reason this is really novel to you. You take escalators in subway and bus stations and department stores, but you’re not sure you ever have in a grammar or high school.

– The escalators between the first and second floors are broken, so you walk up them. There are two. You can’t imagine going to class up and down multiple sets of escalators every day.

– Finally on the fifth floor, you go to the women’s room, still very nervous. This class is non-credit and nothing is on the line, but there it is.

– You walk in the classroom, two minutes early. Some desks are grouped; some are on their own and facing the front. People that have already arrived have taken seats near the front that are on the side. Those are the seats you would have taken. There are many seats in the middle and back of the room and still a few near the front that are part of the grouped seats. You take the empty seat that is front and center. Seems logical for someone who is afraid of being put on the spot.

– Class begins. The profesora has everyone introduce themselves—she says you should all know each other’s names—and the reason why they want to learn Spanish. Several people want to travel to Cuba. Two girls are occupational therapists who work with Spanish-speaking patients. A couple of men have significant others who are Spanish-speaking. You say that you want to learn Spanish in order to speak with Spanish-speakers.

– For the next activity, students group into two or three and ask each other questions to get to know each other. Entonces, you each introduce your partners to the rest of the class.

– Then the profesora informs the class that the facilities workers in the hallway want you to move to another classroom because there is a mouse in this one. Lest you forget, this is a school in New York City. You wonder how often this usually happens. Is it a regular occurrence, or did a ráton just want to audit the class?

After all that, it turns out that I am ahead of most of my classmates. I only took one school year of Spanish in Paris, but my impression at that time that we were moving very fast was correct. Perhaps it was partly because Spanish taught to French-speakers can be done at a quick pace given the similarities in grammar and vocabulary, and partly because my teacher was just very good. Whatever the reason, I’m going to be just fine, and I’m definitely going to be much more relaxed before the second class. I’m kind of going to miss those butterflies, though.

Graffiti

Sometimes when I see graffiti, I think of:

– The day one of best friends and I rented bikes and took them along the Canal Saint-Martin far out of Paris. This was before I signed up for the cost-effective annual Vélib subscription, so he and I were racking up a fee, but I think we’d both say it was worth it.

– Sitting along an isolated part of the canal on a warm day having a conversation with a Right Bank mec I knew. It started drizzling, and we skedaddled to find cover. Where did we go? A bar? Was that the day he taught me how to play pétanque? I don’t recall, but I remember the grinning cat graffiti across the water.

I guess there is a lot of graffiti along parts of the canal.

Somehow they hold for me pleasant memories of unrushed afternoons en français.

Bof

I feel a sense of dread about this year. There are various reasons for that that aren’t easy for me to verbalize.

I generally think of myself as a positive person, and I think most people I know would describe me that way, but when I think back to years ago and then move forward to more recent years, there were periods where I struggled to find something positive and some beauty in life. As is the case with everyone. Life ebbs and flows. If we’re lucky, we have more happy times than sad ones. I know in the grand scheme of things, I’ve been lucky. And #blessed, if I was someone who used hashtags.

During hard times, where I turn to find that momentary relief has changed over the years. Within the past decade one source has been nature. Looking up in a quiet space outside. Witnessing the trees that are bound to change next week.

And there’s music. Writing. People. Turning outward when it’s tempting to turn inward and stay there.

For a few weeks now certain things that I thought I had almost become desensitized to have reasserted themselves and stayed wedged in my mind past the moment. They span the levels from personal—what’s happening in my circle—to global—what’s in the news.

A small example: every time I see a homeless person in the subway now, the sadness I feel lingers longer than it used to. It seems inhuman to hear someone beg and then go about one’s day. There is a man I see sitting in the corner of the subway entrance every morning. What would help? I’m not going to give money every day. Would a smile be better than ignoring him?

I think in most cases, the feeling of malaise in difficult situations comes from feeling powerless or not knowing what to do or believing that one’s actions or words won’t make a difference.

If someone told me all this, I would probably tell them to think about what they can do, and try to do it. Sittin’ and sulkin’ ain’t gonna do anything. Well, I wouldn’t tell anyone the latter—tough love isn’t really my thing—but it’s what I tell myself after a night spent worrying or when a cloud descends on my mind.

More thoughts to come.

 

Note: I wrote this two and a half weeks ago. It’s representative of a moment in time, and good and hopeful things, as well as bad and worrisome things, have happened since then. Everything evolves (though I still wouldn’t say I’m feeling particularly cheery).

Oh Snap

Today I had lunch with a colleague who graduated from college last spring. When our appetizers arrived, she asked, “Should we wait till the entrees come to snap everything together or start eating now?”

I didn’t hear exactly what she had said and thought she was asking if we should snack on the appetizers or wait to eat everything together. Whatever the actual question, I knew my answer was that I wanted to start eating; hadn’t we both just said we were hungry?

A moment later, I realized she had actually been asking if we should wait so that we could take a picture of all our food to post on Snapchat, the app that’s all the rage among teens and early twenty-somethings.

This could have made me feel the significance of the seven years between us, but truth be told, I know that even if I were her age, I would never have considered waiting to eat my spring rolls. I do take photos of my food sometimes, but as it comes and not to show my friends. I can think of a few reasons I wouldn’t have started eating immediately (if my food had arrived and hers hadn’t, if she was in the restroom while they came, if one of our orders was wrong), and none of them include an app.

I acted as if her question was normal, but I was really thinking, “Are you serious??” I still wonder if there’s a possibility she was half-joking. Hot spring rolls! Hunger! No one except us cares what we’re eating!

Even when I was that age and up on all the trends, I didn’t feel inclined to follow them. The difference is that now I can use my age as an excuse!

On the Go

New York City is truly the city of convenience. Case in point: I came across this postal truck selling stamps:

dsc00117

Perfect, I thought. I wanted to get the new Wonder Woman stamps and a sheet of ten cents stamps.

They did have Wonder Woman and an array of other new designs—not all post offices are so well-stocked—but unfortunately, no small denomination stamps. I would have had to go to the nearest post office. I was on my way to Grand Central Station and deemed that I did not have time to stop in and see if there was a line to buy stamps.

The nearest post office was right behind me; the truck was parked outside it.

At first I was amazed by this new food truck-esque vehicle, but upon further reflection I see why they set up a truck.

Sometimes I don’t know if having more at our fingertips makes us more or less efficient.

Bonne Année

Towards the end of December I sent out Christmas and holiday greetings to friends, family, and acquaintances, which included many Frenchies. Their responses reminded me of the differences between French and English greetings and how much I love noticing them:

– All the responses wishing me “de très belles fêtes de fin d’année” (very happy end-of-the-year holidays). Not that one can’t say “Joyeuses fêtes” (Happy Holidays), but I think that the fact that the former is even used reveals the specificity of the French language. No wonder non-native English speakers don’t get why we use the word “get” for everything, from “get groceries” and “get ready” to “get up” and “get down.”

– A French friend who responded to my “Merry Christmas” on December 23rd with “Thanks! Although Christmas is in 2 days!” It reminded me of my first year in France, when a friend admonished me for wishing him “Bonne Année” (Happy New Year) before the end of the year, which I had done because we wouldn’t see each other until after the holidays.

– The “bizzz” at the end of some friends’ emails, not to indicate a bee buzzing, but rather a friendly way of signing off. Not to mention the bisous and je t’embrasse and so on depending on the sender’s personality and how they view our relationship.

I hope you enjoyed the holidays. Bonne Année!

A French colleague told me I can say that until January 20th.

Bizzz

dsc00047dsc00107dsc00113dsc00142dsc00157dsc00158dsc00166