Month: March 2014

The Cat at Chez Bebert

Or Le chat chez Chez Bebert

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A stray animal at a restaurant in the US is…let me backtrack.
You never see a stray animal in the US.
Keeping a pet inside a restaurant? Nope. I mean, unless you want your permits and stuff revoked- then it’s cool (why did you open a restaurant in the first place?).
Abroad, though, things are a little…different.

You can, um, “be one with nature” during a culinary experience.
I once ate a grec outside of Notre Dame, sitting on the floor, as rats skittered by in the moonlight.
Rats.
As big as my thigh.
I think it was the fact I had never really seen one in person before that prevented me from going through any shock.
One…two…ooh, there’s a big one!
As long as these things would not come near my food, it was cool.

These are little daily treats of Parisian life. It’s a city- you deal with all sorts of things! This is not clean, Winnie-the-Pooh-land gated communities. There is grit in the streets and there are germs in your hands, so don’t rub your eyes.

Furthermore, some respectable dining establishments are not free from animals. Oh, no.
There was a restaurant down the street from my Château that had some bomb-ass couscous, and payday had just rolled around. My friends and I decided it was the perfect time to go get some delicious grub.

We settled in, placed our order, and a few minutes later, out came our heaping plates of couscous, steamed vegetables, and meats. Mouths watering, we dug in like those two kids in Jurassic Park (Except more savagely, of course. We were starving grad students. Those two were just bitches hiding from some whatever dinosaur. We were against T-hesisaurus Rex. Pshh.)

Littlebitch

Anyway, in the middle of the smorgasbord, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. This was significant, since I was really into that lamb.
Something was staring at me, intently. I peeled my eyes off my plate and onto the edge of the seat- a cat.
I took another bite.
WAIT! What the effffff? A cat!?
I looked at it again. It did that licking thing cats do, and it sunk in that this creature was going to quite possibly pounce and take away all my delicious couscous, and vegetables, and lamb!
Nooo!
I pointed it out to my friends. There were two types of reaction: amusement, and utter disgust.

Had I not previously seen stray cats inside a supermarket as a child growing up in Venezuela, this would have probably made me panic. But it was cool- as long as this little feline did not play games with my food.

Scoffing and gagging (or was he just gagging?), one of my friends had to stop eating. Why the hell was there a cat in this restaurant?

I flagged down the waiter.

“Sir, there is a cat”, I said.

“Yes. Yes, there is”, he replied. AND HE PET THE CAT.

It sunk in: as all things cats…THIS CAT OWNED THE RESTAURANT.

I sat there, confused but beginning to get one of those really good chuckles.

At this point my gagging friend was in sheer agony, clenching his fists at the ceiling and imploring “Where am I? What am I?”

Next to me, my other friend was starting to get friendly with the cat. I warmed up to the idea, until it jumped up on our table and panic set in. I don’t know how it happened, or who did it, but less than a fraction of a second later, that cat was on my lap, purring (I guess it’s a cat thing) and I just sat there, like a fool with a fork.

Our waiter came around again, on his way to another table. He cooed at the cat while my friens and I smiled like (american) lunatics.

This cat was here to show is he was boss. He had an agenda.
He burrowed and stretched and tossed and did cat things until my friend and I made a place for him, between us. And then he napped.
He disn’t say bye, though.
Catshole.

And this is my Paris cat story.
I lost the pictures and I hate myself a little bit for it right now. But I do hope you enjoyed it.
I’m going to go pet my dog now.

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Guilt

(I’m not exactly well-versed in political theories or diplomatic tactics. I’m a regular citizen, like most of the world.) 

To explain the pain one feels for their native land is hard to explain. It’s a pain that needs to be experienced in order to be understood. It’s like heartbreak- if you’ve never gone through it, you can’t fully understand it.
This is the pain that I, my family, my friends, and the Venezuelan diaspora feel each day. We are here, but our minds and our hearts are elsewhere. They are home, with our families, with our friends, with the people that couldn’t get out and refuse to get out, because it is their God-given right to live and thrive in their homeland.

About a year ago I wrote THIS post about the situation my native country, Venezuela, was going through. I’m sad to say, things have not gotten any better. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. A lot.

But should you need me to backtrack, let me break it down for you: Venezuela (Veh-neh-zoo-eh-luh) is located on the northern coast of South America.

Hi!

The capital city is Caracas, which is my hometown. It’s actually pretty close to the US. It takes the same amount of time to get to Caracas from Miami, as it does from Miami to Boston. This puts us closer to the States than Iraq, Iran, Russia, and all those other crazies who seem to be a constant threat to national security.  Also, we’re fucking rich in oil. Yep. We have more oil than the Saudis. Your car runs on Venezuelan oil. All your gasoline-powered stuff runs on Venezuelan oil, most likely.
Oh, and that chocolate? Venezuelan cocoa, baby. Miss Universe? We got it down pack- we’re the country with the most crowns. You’re welcome.

But today, people have gone from saying “Ah! Venezuelaaa!”, with a smile on their faces, to “Ay, Venezuela…”, their faces now showing worry and, dare I say it? Pity.

How is it possible that greed and avarice can take up so much strength that people are willing to stay put in power? How is it possible that even though they are fully conscious of what they are doing, they can go out and show their faces and act like all is well? How can they mock us so openly, limiting our rights, goods, resources, and freedoms while they travel around the world, live a life of extensive luxury, and turn a blind eye to the problems they are propagating with their hateful discourse?
In Spanish, we have a word for it: descaro.
Cynism.

Genesis Carmona, a student, was shot during one of the protests. She did not survive the attack.

But the one thought I struggle with every day is “why don’t I just go over there?” Why don’t I just book myself a one-way flight to Caracas, to go for a cause I believe in and support with all my energy? Guilt eats at me.
I could easily fly to Colombia, and cross the border from Cúcuta to San Cristobal. I could go via Panama, via Peru. But I don’t. Why? Because I am a coward. Because I have grown soft and comfortable in my suburbian home. Because I have landed a job I wanted, because I am able to travel freely, because I can sleep soundly at night without the worry that our house will be broken-into.
Because I’m a coward.
Because I don’t have half the strength these people have.
I have only lived their oppression from afar. I have been angered, but at a distance. I have not felt the abuses myself, save for maybe once or twice (and yes, those times were at the now-closed Venezuelan consulate in Miami.)
These people back home are abused, harassed, belittled, controlled, and mocked every day of their life.

Every day there are tweets and messages: so and so got arrested for protesting in X place, so and so was mugged by the National Guard; a special-needs citizen was beaten up until he passed out by, again, our brave and respectful National Guard. Sometimes, those who are “detained” are never found alive again.

precio

Before going to bed, I “make my rounds”. I send messages to my friends in the barricades around Caracas, where they have learned to mix different ingredients such as drenching towels in vinegar, or mixing Maalox and water, to fight the effects of the tear gas they are attacked with every day.
I make sure they’ve not been detained. I don’t even ask if they’re ok. They’re not. This beautiful city that is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site is now a war zone, and no one is ever “OK” in a warzone.

Student-built barricades in Caracas.

But then, to have the “government” come out and call these fighters names, to say they are fascists, communists, niñitos de papá y mamá, to see them say they want “peace” when they themselves are the ones that launch attacks on the citizens, and say they are backed up by the CIA and the FBI is, even if ridiculous, infuriating. To add insult to injury, the Venezuelan government is closely allied to the Cuban government. Cuban troops roam freely around the country, “enforcing the law”.

Recovering from tear gas

Think about how bad do things have to be, and how desperate do you have to feel, to be to really put your life on the line? To feel that facing an armed and blood-thirsty “National Guard” is the only way out?

Protester being dragged by the law enforcement.

If you’re not aware of the situation, which I find hard to believe, I invite you to read this entry by a fellow blogger, who was an English teacher in a city called Barquisimeto. Read her ordeal.
I invite you to watch these videos done by a field journalist.
I invite you to read articles by CNN, Reuters, the New York Times, and the countless other articles you find on the internet (checking the legitimacy of their source, of course).

I left Venezuela fourteen years ago. I have not been back in eight years, and the pain is still latent.

If you feel compelled to help us, share the information you receive through social media. It’s the most we can do from far away. The world needs to know about us.

Venezuela, fuerza.

Cool story, bra!

“Il faut que tu ailles chez Darjeelin!”
You must go to Darjeelin, recommended my friend Soria. She, like me, is very well-endowed on the chest section.
And so when my financial aid kicked in and I had a small fortune, I made my way to this Darjeelin store to see what was up.

At first, I was a little hesitant. It’s just an underwear store- I had no qualms walking into Victoria’s Secret back home, so why am I just standing outside, looking like a fool?
I take a step inside the store.
Bonjour madame, bienvenue!
Hi.
Comment puis-je vous aider?
Oh, I’m here for a bra.
Vous cherchez quelque chose en particulier?
No. I’m just going to browse.
I picked up the first bra. Looked at the tag. 90B. What the fuck is a 90?

Ouate de phoque?

After much second-guessing, and looking like a fool, I approached the girl. Madame, I shily said, si je suis une 36 aux États Unis, quelle est ma taille en France?
She dropped everything, made a delighted noise and launched onto the explanation of size conversions. I’m a 95. Ok, good! First step done!
She then proceeded to whisk me around the store, showing me all sorts of models and designs, and teaching me new vocabulary: bretelle (strap), bonnet (cup), armature (under-wire), rembourré (padded), dentelle (lace)… Yay! Suddenly things were not as scary- I was ready to don my first sexy French lingerie  piece!
She shoved me inside a fitting room with the usual “if you need anything, do not hesitate to ask me”.
All right, I will!
Strip!
After a few minutes, there I was- my inner Victoria’s Secret Angel oozing out of my pores. Or was it Darjeelin angel now? Damn, I was looking FINE in those French bras. Mm mmm!

This is me, duh

I heard the sing-song of the sales associate girl.
“Are you all right, miss? Would you like me to come in so we can see it together?”
Dafuck? She wants to get inside with me? Suddenly, the velour courtains of the fitting room began to shift- she was going in.
Terror gripped me. You want to see me in my bra!? WHERE AM I?
“I’m OK!”, I replied, trying as best I could to mask the sheer horror in my voice. When I said I would let you know if I needed help, I meant peeking my head out from the inside and asking for a different size! Not for you to come and look at me! What are you doing? Trying to sell me something that fits right!? Victoria would never do this!

After a few more bras, it seemed I surpassed the time limit without an associate inside the fitting room.
Despite my pleas to not come in and my insistance at the fact that I did not need her help, Sales Girl was inside the boudoir-style room with me.
There was nowhere to run, and if I had anything to cover myself with, I could not do it- she was pulling and tugging at my undergarment. My girls jiggled, my heart raced- I am hispanic! You can see me in a bathing suit, but never in my underwar! That’s just indecent!
After an eternity (or, like, 10 seconds), Sales Girl stood back, cocked her head to the side smiling and said “So, do we take it?”
It was as awkward as anything- We stood there, face to face. The measuring tape hanging from her neck, mocking me.
“Yes”, I said, “I’ll take them all”

True rendition of what happened outside

What did Beatriz learn from this experience? After much soul-searching and questioning, I realized that our bodies are not taboo! They’re just…well…a body! It’s our property and we have objectified it so much that we have made it taboo.
If you go to other stores, they have something called la cabine collective, or the “collective fitting room”. If you ever don’t feel like standing in line to try something on, just go in. There will be others trying on clothes as well…so what? They have bodies, too!

So did I go back to Darjeelin? Yes! Did I let Sales Girl come in?

Guess

Pee-pee in Paris

Did I ever write about bathrooms? I’m trying to remember, and I don’t think I ever did. Bathrooms are a super important part of culture shock. Oh, yes. From latrines to shared toilets, to “water closets” and “chiottes”, going pee-pee in Paris is an experience in and of itself!
(Super proud of that intro, by the way. I should sell time-shares on the teevee!)

So, you go to the bathroom and you have your sink, your shower/tub, and your toilet. And a little bathroom mat because, hey! What’s a bathroom without a little mat?

Anyway! American bathrooms are incredibly convenient. It’s a one-stop destination you (mostly) walk out of feeling great.
In France, however, bathrooms are another thing. If you ever have the good fortune of having to pee in Paris, get ready! There are many options.

First, there are self-cleaning toilets in the street. Yep. They look like pods that spring up from the concrete along the sidewalks. You pay a small fee and you have 20 minutes to take care of business. Easy-peacy. I saw similar public toilets in Brussels, but that’s another story onto its own….preferably a drinking story.

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WILDCARD

And then, there are those shared bathrooms. I saw more dick in Paris in a year than I care to admit. I mean, you just end up greeting them as you walk into the little toilet room designated for females (yes, room. No stalls! It’s a pretty big deal for a girl!). The first time I went into a shared bathroom in Paris was in 2009, while I was spending a week there with my cousin. I walked into the bathroom and saw men. MEN! Inside the bathroom! A shy bladder all my life, I bolted back to my table. I decided then that would be the day I would prefer my bladder burst rather than share a bathroom with men. Fast forward three years and I found myself making small talk with others, walking past the urinals like it was no big deal and laughing at my visitors who found the idea totally scandalous.

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Call Robespierre for a good time.

Then, there’s the time you’re told you’re a princess because you have a toilet (and shower and sink, but mostly toilet) inside your appartment. See, Paris is home to many, many old buildings. These buildings predate the concept of what we know as bathroom or restroom, so you will sometimes encounter appartments with a shared toilet in the hallway (uh-huh!). Or, if you’re lucky, it’s a state-of-the-art, hole in the ground. Shared by the tenants of maybe 5 or 6 appartments.

By the way, do you know how hard it is to pop a squat and aim when you’ve been drinking?

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It’s agonizing.
Also, don’t look down.

Also, older appartments have all sorts of odd distributions like, say, a little lone toilet room. You’re going to have to wash your hands in another room. The concept of peeing before or after a shower is a complicated one to navigate here (which, is sometimes not so bad because have you ever had to sit down on the toilet after taking a shower? Yeah- horrible feeling.)

But my most terrifying bathroom experience took place about a week ago, while back in Paris. I was meeting my boyfriend’s family for the first time. We were about to have dinner at his grandmother’s appartment and I was politely guided to the bathroom, after inquiring where I might find it (I mean, can you imagine any other reason why?). After fumbling with the latch, I managed to close the door. I turned around and found myself in a very large room- a huge room by French standards, actually- and studied it. There was a large tub to my left, a long countertop with a sink at the end. There were little cute knick-knacks everywhere. I took a step towards the sink, surely the toilet had to be to the right, behind the closeted wall. Nope. No toilet.
Where the fuck am I?
I turned around, heart racing. I was still in the awkward post-rencontre stage of the meeting, trying not to make an ass out of myself. Those fucking cute knick-knacks seemed to suddenly mock me. To top it all off, I’m one of those super paranoid people who know time is running once you enter a bathroom. I could not take too long- lest they think I’m doing whatever. Like being utterly lost.
After a few eternal seconds, I lost my shit (haha pun) and was about to walk out, defeated but determined to put on my best after-pee face. As I reached back the door and its annoying little lock, something caught my eye to the left.
Inside the closet on the left, something beamed like a beacon of hope.
The toilet.
I opened the hinged door, à la Christina Ricci on Casper, and searched for the light switch. On came the light and I stepped up inside the little closet. Relief flooded through my body until I remembered, I have a shy bladder.

Don’t panic. FOCUS ON THE PINK TOILET PAPER.

At any rate, have you guys ever heard of bidets?

Paris, Round 2

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It’s funny how at some point I really dislked- nay, detested– Paris. Those of you who have been reading this humble little blog since the beginning are super familiar with that fact. Those of you who talk to me on a daily basis know that I have a love-hate relationship with the place- “I love it but…”, “The metro is awesome, except…”. It seems I am never satisfied.

(Ok, I’m never satisfied)

Coming back after an eight-month stay in the States, in which I have established myself as a professor (a position that I had actually projected to be attained in 10 years, and not ten weeks after graduation), Paris proves to be the same mind-fuck it was back during my grad days. I love it- oh, I love its streets, I love to walk, I love to take the metro! And also, there are those omnipresent pitfalls to Parisian life: the rudeness, the cold, the sticker shock. But really what is incredibly special about this time around is all the positivity I was exposed to:
I got to see my “Parisian” friends again (and by Parisian I mean Colombian, Chilean, English, American, Puerto Rican, etc) – the people that, without knowing, saved my life when I was was going through the roughest little patch. They were there, arms wide open, smiling the same smiles that warmed up my days and kept me trudging along. I also got to see my Middlebury friends- the people who made the summers at ClubMidd bearable and who now shine in Parisian academia. Most importantly, I stayed with the greatest host anyone could ever ask for- a man whose heart is so big it might as well need its own métro wagon. A man who took my hand and showed me how love heals all and endures all.

I laughed at the irony of it all when I looked out the window and saw the Eiffel Tower and the Montparnasse Tower standing next to each other. How many times did I look out my window and looked at them, day and night, and wondered if things would ever be ok. Now, I got see them from a distance, in another state of mind- fully aware of the changes I underwent right under them.  

I realized then it was a way to show me that those days are long gone. I may move on, without fear or hesitations.

Paris, this time around, was the Paris I lived before losing my innocence (not going for the dramatic here!). I smiled easily; I ate everything in sight. EVERYTHING.

I walked around my old neighborhood (I may have teared up), stood outside my old building (I may have kissed the door), visited my old Zara (yes, that is crucial information!), ate the panini in Cluny (made with love by Zoyla), ate the Grec in front of Saint-Severin (the one where the guy looks like Anthony Bourdain), went inside my favorite church (Saint-Germain-des-Pres), and bought so much Speculoos I may have to make a special declaration at US Customs.

But above all, I was loved. I was so warmly welcomed that I now realize my time in Paris was not in vain. Though I did not have time to say hello to my thesis director, Madame Auzanneau, I heard she speaks of me in her lectures, and how my efforts that went into writing my thesis is the growth process educators like to see. Even if only a comment in passing, this means the impression stayed. Though I did not have a stellar thesis (passed with the lowest passing grade, a B-), I feel I am not supposed to be ashamed about it. It was my baby that I somehow managed to nurture in a time of extreme anguish. Little by little the pieces have come together again.

In April I find out if I landed a job back in France. I feel this time around I am fully prepared.  

In the meantime, Paris has inspired me enough to revive this little blog with a few entries in the coming days. So yay, Paree! 
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