learning

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

Advertisements

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.

Image

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.

Image

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?

Image

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?

The other side of the desk

My first week as a College professor lolwut? has concluded.
It was, to say the least, the weirdest week of my life. I don’t recall booking tickets into the Twilight Zone, but it seems I was the lucky winner for an indefinite trip into a parallel dimension, with a panoramic view of my past.

It all happened my chance- I had grown *very* discouraged in my job search and I applied, for giggles, to a community college (will not disclose the name of it because, well, I don’t feel like it! :D). A week later, on a Friday afternoon, I was driving back from Ikea when I got a phone call from a very nice lady telling me that a French instructor at X Community College had to resign over a family emergency and they were now in serious need for an instructor. I pounced at the opportunity. A few hours later, I was getting bombarded with information, and 48 hours later, I had gotten a security clearance and background check, input into the system and launched into a classroom where I was to teach 21 people beginner French.

Being on the other side of the desk- to be the one with the information- is certainly a very interesting experience. It’s nothing at all like giving a class presentation. It’s serious business. It’s up to you to teach and teach right. Teach correctly, and teach passionately. It’s about infecting others with a desire to learn and to encourage them to not second-guess themselves because hey! if you did it, so can they! (and I must attest to myself as evidence- I picked up French my second year of Community College).

Now, all of this sounds very idealistic. I sound like a noob, like a rookie. And I am! But I also believe in teachers and professors. It’s these people that shaped me and pushed me to broaden my academic spectrum; the ones that pushed me to excel and get out of my comfort zone! It was also the terrible teachers/professors that I had that made me feel like I could make a difference- that anyone that comes under my tutelage will not only be taught, but taught well.
Some of the students I have took the course because, whatever, they needed an elective credit and they chose the first thing that came to mind which was French (again, maybe because we all feel entitled to all things French, as I’ve said in a previous post). Little did they know that learning French is not just about saying “J’adore”- no. It’s about culture, it’s about learning a violent history, about learning how the language they speak (English/Spanish/Creole) has been directly affected and touched by French. But aside all that, even if they don’t choose to continue, they will have been exposed to something else. Something that maybe will escape their logic, but they will remember despite the fact that it was “hard”.
It’s not about teaching a language, it’s about all the aspects that come with learning it. It’s a challenge- and if it doesn’t feel like it, if it never got weird or nonsensical at some point- then it was not done correctly.

All of a sudden I had more priorities and more things to be wary of: Did I word it right? Do they understand? Why didn’t you complete the homework? Can everybody see red on the board? Why are you not making an effort? did the photocopier seriously just jam?
I may blend in with the crowd but I can no longer check a guy out- that’s just creepy, even if there’s only like a two-year difference in age. Also, I have to deal with silly people from IT, who don’t seem to understand anything I tell them:
Me: I need the adapter to plug in my computer to the video projector.
IT: Well, there’s a computer all the way at the bottom of the desk.
Me: Yes, but it’s missing the adapter to plug the cables in. I have a Mac and have my own adapter, but the link between my Mac and the PC is missing.
IT: Well, if you have a Mac you need your own adapter.
Me: *Kicks a puppy*

Then again, this position comes with perks: Staff and faculty parking. Oh, yes. No more third-degree burns from walking in the sun. Only some pre-hypoxia when I jump in my A/C-lacking Ferrari.

So, yeah, there it is. That’s how I can condense some mayor points of my first-week experience. I will, of course, touch up on other things that I’ve observed- some injustices faced by my students, and some little victories and light-hearted anecdotes.

Stay tuned, because I finally may have found some inspiration to write again!

Next move

I’m from nowhere. You can’t ask me to lower an anchor and have me grow roots in a single place. It’s just impossible.

Though I’ve not experienced much, I have had a taste, a delicious morcel, of what hopping from place to place feels like. As disconcerting as it is- as confusing as it leaves you feeling, panting and bewildered in a corner, the thrill is sweet.

Although this year was excruciatingly painful, and little reminders still come crawling from the shadows now and then, I am ready to do it all over again.
You can’t ask me to stay put. You can’t ask me to go get a nice job, melt into the crowd and one day say how I wish I had done something differently. I don’t feel like I was made to stay in one place, to just go along with the flow of things. No. I was made to be awed. I was made to learn. I was made to relish in little everyday miracles. I was not made to ignore the beauty that life has to offer. Nothing for me is trivial. I choose to live my life like there’s magic in every nook and cranny because otherwise, what fun is it?

Mind you, getting an email from BNP Paribas telling me my Parisian account has been overdrafted is not anything magical, but hey! Technology and the fact that I was able to live in France is a little exciting, no?

Today I find myself facing uncertainty.

Last time I found myself here, I remember being very afraid. It was in early 2012- I had recently been unceremoniously fired from a part-time job as a receptionist I held since 2009, without notice and without explanation. A simple “Hi, don’t come back Monday” (to the day I still wonder what it was that I did that was unforgivable). I also found myself in the confusion that is puppy love. Oh, if I would have known what was coming up later that year! At any rate, to make the story short (not my forte, ever), last time I found myself facing nothing but confusion, I ended up being whisked away by the adventure that was Middlebury- the “monastic” life in Vermont and then the chaos that was Paris.

I am to return to Miami tomorrow. The idyllic days of the student life are over. 
People are excited. Oh, yes. I went around for a year from place to place “representing”- carrying with me the name of Miami. I went around carrying my “Miami attitude”; telling stories to anyone who would listen (and even those who would not) about my magical home. But who would have thought that in a few short months, my attitude would change. I seldom use “Miami” now. The “305” sign has been thrown up in pictures less and less. I’m no longer “Miss three-oh-five”, as I used to proudly be nicknamed by friends. Going back to South Florida indefinitely (for now), feels a little wrong. 

I was very close to moving to Puerto Rico. I was being offered what was a great position as a Spanish/French teacher at a private school. The cycle of interviews went great. The offer was made and, as luck would have it, the pay, though competitive for the island, was terrible for a recent graduate facing relocation. Crest-fallen, I had to decline the offer. Though it sounds like a huge contradiction to the whole tone of the post, the responsibilities that would be thrust upon me were far too great for the amount of monetary remuneration. It was a choice made with logic at its apex. The story can be tedious, so I will spare the details for now. After an attempt at negotiation and sugar-coating of conditions from the school, I declined them a second time. Puerto Rico would have been an escape. But only cowards escape. 

So now, I have no job, no prospect of a job, and a thirst to part once more. 

I am currently in Montréal (a last respit before drawing up a plan of action), holding a graduate degree in one hand and the traditional walking cane given to graduates in the other hand. But if it’s analyzed closely, my hands are full. My hands hold my orb and scepter. As regent of my life, I choose what to do now. As protector, I dictate what will be best for me.  I have found patience and serenity in the past and, furthermore, I know I am better prepared, better armed, to face the unknown and throw myself into it. The more I think about it, the more comfortable I grow in the idea that I am fully free to do as I wish right now. All it needs is a little push. And this push will most likely come from life back in Miramar. 

Adventure, for me, is not defined as skydiving out of a plane, nor surfing waves. Nope. That may be part of an adventure. For me the meaning of the word is to simply throw myself, with open arms, to the uncertainty of the future.

I may just never be able to go on a Nepalese excursion, or bathe in the beaches of Bali (damn, that was some nice alliteration!), but I give myself willingly to the future and the fights I will have to put up to not become complacent.

A Farewell to Paris

(Let’s get uncomfortably personal!)

When I started this blog, I was merely following the suggestion of a very dear family friend who saw in me what I could not see (and still fail to see sometimes).

I, in the middle of a severe bout of depression, was desperate for a means to let out what I had bottled up inside my mind, inside my heart.

I hated Paris. I hated it so much. I hated its gray skies, its horrible, cold weather, its grumpy people…but most of all, I hated the isolation and the loneliness I lived in.

I know I have talked about the subject before, and it probably annoys the hell out of readers, but let me go into a little bit more detail, so you can understand what transpired:

It was first a little bit of seasonal depression. The lack of sunlight began to affect me here and there. Then, in the middle of this period of time, I had a falling out with someone I cared (and still care for) deeply. It was a fast descent into what has been probably the hardest time of my life. I found myself alone, half a world away from any source of support, and broken-hearted. There was a moment where everything settled and things seemed to finally be going well again, but once more, I tripped over the same stone and fell hard. Two people can care for each other all they want, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will end up happily together.

I became a carcass of what I used to be. I no longer smiled, I started skipping class, I failed courses. I did not eat nor get out of bed. My thesis remained unwritten for the good part of 6 months. I lost sense of what I came here for. I was ready to abandon ship and go home.

But I couldn’t do that.

I decided to take matters into my own hands, and with the help of a friend, I found a psychologist.

The healing process began and I have to say that actually working through these issues was more difficult than the situation itself. There was a lot of guilt, a lot of resentment, anger, regret, self-doubt, and sadness. I felt stupid to be going to a shrink because of a silly broken heart, but as it turns out, these sessions where I would be torn down were what helped me get my head once more above water. I learned it’s fine- nay, necessary- to ask for help. It’s not that you can’t help yourself, it’s that you’re ready to pull yourself by the bootstraps and carry on.

Slowly but surely, I came back to being me. A renewed me. A me that loves life so much more, for I realized what a beautiful gift it really is. I learned that I was the one who gave myself my own worth, I learned that even though I am a small person, I muster the strength of a giant.

I look back at this dark time, with this new perspective and I realized how necessary this whole ordeal was. How I could not change a single thing about it.

Today, I am where I want to be: I am sad to leave Paris.

But it has to finish. The ending page of this chapter is upon me, and I must turn it and continue writing my story.

As disappointed as I am to be leaving, I find comfort in knowing that I dictate my own life.

In Paris, I was torn to shreds, and I was able to rebuild myself. This has given me a new outlook: I can do whatever I want.

Last week, I defended my thesis, and passed. The sole act of finishing the document was a victory itself. To pass the test of fire (that was the defense) was proof that an effort does pay off and that I am a fighter and I can conquer even my greatest demons.

Furthermore, I realize now that I was never as alone as I thought I was. Despite the big distance, I had a huge support system that constantly made me feel like they were near me. Over the time I have been here, I have also forged the most beautiful friendships with the most caring and welcoming people. Their kindness and love will never be forgotten. I lock the memories in my heart, to always remind me that there is goodness everywhere and that I, too, must be as good to others as this group of individuals has been to me.

As for that gentleman I mentioned earlier, all I have is gratitude towards him: In giving me the darkest time of my life, in inducing in me the most pure and thorough of sadness and fear… he gave me light. He gave me the most beautiful thing you can give anyone: a stronger, more compassionate self.

Though it is highly unlikely these lines will ever encounter him (which is what emboldens me to make the statement about to come), it has to be said, at least once: I love you. And I wish it could be something I could tell you, face to face. Why? I know you don’t understand yet, but I love you for the beauty and joy you brought to my days with your sole presence, with your conversations, with the knowledge that we had each other and (at least on my end) we were thus invincible. I love you because I saw how big your heart is. I love you because I fully admire your determination, your courage, your ability to reason.

Now we go our separate ways, and that’s all right because that’s how things were supposed to play out. There is no point in going against anything. I embrace it, and seeing that you have not cast me aside (for whatever reason), despite all of our misunderstandings and heated arguments, has taught me compassion and forgiveness. I love you, and I will love you, because of all the wonderful memories I hold of us together along the years. My sole desire is that you, too, will smile when you think of me and that next time our paths cross, we are just two happy people.

And so, in six short days I bid farewell to this magical city- the place where in a single year I learned what should be learned in ten lifetimes. I go back home a different person, excited to begin life. I wish I could carry in my skin the grittiness of your streets, the sensation of freedom I encountered once I realized that everything was going to be OK. But I can’t. And that’s all right- I’ve learned to be patient.

 

Thank you, Paris. 

España, corazón!

Where to begin to describe my love affair with Spain?
I am sometimes hesitant to say that I would love to live here, because vacationing, or staying for short amounts of time, is not the same as having the day-to-day grind somewhere.
I thought I loved Paris, and I thought living there would make me love it even more- that I would never, ever, in a million years, go back to the States. And yet, here I sit, the night before I am to go back to France, feeling nothing but dread and that really annoying knot in my throat.

I have had the incredibly good fortune of always falling into place here in Spain. I have heard it’s a very tight-knit society- closed, even. Perhaps because I already have a “connection” every time I visit that I am welcomed, with open arms and a cold drink waiting for me.
Even when I am back home in the States, I find myself going to flamenco festivals, drinking homemade tinto de verano with friends, day dreaming about past visits. In Paris, when the going gets rough the only thing that can comfort me is a good sevillana.
So how am I not supposed to adore a place where it just so happens that every time I set foot in, people are always eager to share with me what makes up their culture: the food, the drink, the dances. I find it hard to believe that it’s just good luck that, in the five times I have been here, that I always learn copious amounts of new things, make new friends, and always- always- leave wanting more.

If Paris taught me anything, is that I am a creature of tact, of social interaction. I cannot be holed up, isolated from the world. In Paris, this happens to be my life and, to put it simply, it makes me sad.

In Spain I am always carried away by the crowd, by the smiles and the openness of its people. It is here that I learned that it is the simple things that really make life enjoyable: a drink, some simple snacks like ham or olives, and friends. The rest of the world (and the economy!) can wait. Life is happening.

In Andalusia, I got caught up in the preparations for the feria. Everyone in town talked about it, schools let out for a whole week, every bar would host an impromptu song-and-dance moment, people would clap to the rhythm of the music in their own head as they walk down the street. Even the laundromats were chockfull of feria attire- the beautiful, colorful dresses that are finally seeing the light of day after a whole year. As a cherry on top, there is a smell of honeysuckle and oranges that accompanies the light breeze that follows you as you make your way into the center of the city, at least in Jerez.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Catalunya)

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Catalunya)

In Catalunya (sorry guys, I’m using political borders!), I saw another side of Europe I had not yet seen- the colorful, whimsical world of Gaudi and Mirò. My tastebuds had a party when I tried romesco for the first time, and I felt like I was on the happiest of acid trips when I visited Parc Güell. I danced the night away with welcoming strangers, heard the code switching between Spanish and Catalan (which, by the way, is a mindfuck).
In Madrid, I got to experience the holiday of San Isidro. We ate and drank to our heart’s content. “More! More! You must drink more! And try this!” was the phrase that was most used that day. I ate pig ear, pickled vegetables, patatas bravas, shrimp..the list is endless. There’s also a vague memory I have of myself wearing a motorcycle helmet but walking around the city. I was adopted by everyone for a night, a day, a week.
I got a taste of the convivencia in Toledo: Muslims, Christians and Jews living together in harmony a few centuries ago and how enriching it was for the city.
In Segovia, I got lost in an ancient restaurant while going to the bathroom and ended up in the wine cellars. And when I say cellars, picture something like a prison from Pirates of the Caribbean.
In the Basque Country (again, political borders!), I played kinito, I ate pintxos, drank kalimotxo and txakoli. I experienced hospitality first hand when the girl behind the bar (who treated me to the kalimotxo) came out to give me a kiss god-bye on the cheek. I got to experience, in the flesh, the beauty of the Bay of Biscay. I got to finally hear Basque flowing freely in conversation. I saw Real Madrid play against Athletic Bilbao, in the legendary San Mamés Stadium. I saw people of all ages, shapes, and sizes party side to side.

Barrika, near Bilbao (Basque Country).

Barrika, near Bilbao (Basque Country).

That, and so much, much more that I cannot begin to describe or relate because the simple joys in life cannot be explained in words- they need to be lived. And all of these wonderful opportunities came to me because I was a visitor from out of town and because people here always want to share. Because they know how to live and they want to make you a part of it.

Every time I leave, I find myself thinking I want to stay here forever. I want to have this lifestyle, but then again, it could potentially become routine and I could stop seeing the joy in it. Perhaps Spain will only ever get to be my respit, my escape- that secret place where I go to remember how to live.

So, until next time, Spain! I look forward to the day I come back and smile a little broader and laugh a little louder.