Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

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The benefits of Christmas in July

1. If you “celebrate” in July, you can take advantage of les soldes! I was able to get myself some fancy (much-needed) French rubber rain boots 50% off! I love a good deal.

2. It always bothered me in Hollywood movies when kids got bikes for Christmas. I never knew anyone who got one since giving a kid an outdoor toy when there are several feet of snow on the ground is cruel. If you get a bike in July though, it’s the perfect gift!

I got myself a new (second hand) bike to ride to work since my normal bike is way too nice to leave locked up outside all day. This one’s my color (purple!), from my decade (the 80s!) and weighs about 6 pounds (which is nuts!). It’s also genuinely français, so it blends into the Parisian streets. I lurve it a lot and have already gotten it new brake lines and am going to get it a new seat saddle and tires since they also seem to be from the 80s, which is less cool when safety and my butt’s comfort are involved.

My new baby

My new baby

Have a merry weekend!


The Pentagon Papers

I’m pretty sure there’s a file on me at the Pentagon. It may not have my name on it, but for the years I lived in DC, I’m certain that someone was tracking my movements. If they weren’t, they should get fired ‘cause I was totally asking for it.

I was still a heavy smoker back then and a serious cyclist and a person who likes to get good deals on stuff. (I am still two of these things.) These three character traits meant that every two weeks, I’d ride from my Northwest DC neighborhood to the Costco in Virginia to buy cartons of cigarettes.

Look how close they are! They were clearly asking me to bike from one to the other by being so close.

Look how close they are! They were clearly asking me to bike from one to the other.

I did this because it was cheaper, Virginia tax being much lower than the District’s, and partly because it gave me a clear destination for my ride and was a good hour-long trip each way.

I’d start in Rock Creek Park, one of the bigger urban parks in America, and cruise along the bike trails through the trees and over streams and around joggers, yelling “On your left!” every once in a while so people would get the hell out of my way. Then I’d jump onto the bike path that ran alongside the major roads, passing the Watergate and thinking of Nixon and Forrest Gump, and then past the Kennedy Center and I’d completely skirt the Lincoln Memorial to cross the Potomac, avoiding Arlington Cemetery entirely and getting to my favorite part of the ride: crossing through the Pentagon parking lot.

I’m not gonna lie; every time I did it, I was anxious I’d get stopped and questioned but that was part of the fun. This is where my file comes in: I’m sure someone somewhere in the building noticed me and I suspect that there was a log of my regular trips around all the barriers they had set up because I was the only cyclist I ever saw there, and I did look a little suspicious. Keep in mind that this was all Post Terror (after 9/11) and I had a black pannier on my bike and was usually wearing wrap-around reflective biking glasses and singing along loudly to my iPod.

An hour later, I’d come back through the parking lot, my pannier filled with 40 packs of cigarettes I shouldn’t technically have as well as other weird Costco items like a 2-lb bag of dried mango slices or a bunch of blank VHS cassettes. (Even before DVRs existed, I time-shifted all my TV-viewing because I don’t like people trying to sell me crap.)

I’ll never know if there really is or was a file on the girl who used to show up on odd days of the week, cruising at top speed through the parking lot of one of America’s most secure buildings, but I like to think that I at least amused some security guards who wondered what the hell I thought I was doing. If I had ever been stopped, things could have gone badly for me, but I wasn’t and I live to tell the tale of defying the US Department of Defense right to its face. ¡Toma!


Versailles like you’ve never seen it

Up until recently, I’d been to Versailles at least three times and maybe as many as five. The chateau is impressive in its extravagance but the manicured garden was always my favorite part. Here’s a shot I took in October 2006.

View with back to the chateau

View with back to the chateau.

Marring the pristine beauty of the space is all the other people and the earth-movers used to swap out the plants.

Now here’s a little triptych I took just the other day.

Versailles Canal 2 Versailles Canal 3 Versailles Canal 1

I’d never seen this side of the property, the so-called English gardens, because they’re quite a ways away from the main chateau and aren’t an easy walking distance… but if you ride your bike, you can enjoy Versailles away from the crowds and pretend that you’re a European princess and that all that you see before you is yours.

Or, you know, you can just eat a really good sandwich that you picked up at Boulangerie Julien, located at 60 rue de la Paroisse in Versailles (the town) just off the market square and enjoy the unimpeded view.

Go somewhere

The visitor’s site for Versailles has an interactive map (I’m a sucker for these things) that’s pretty good.

If you have a bike, it’s an easy ride to Versailles from Paris. You can also take a bike on the RER (lock it to the center pole at the end of the car) during off-peak hours and on weekends. There are also bike tour companies that’ll lead you around the area.


Word Outlier: helmet

helmet — a hard or padded protective hat, various types of which are worn by soldiers, police officers, firefighters, motorcyclists, athletes, and others.

ORIGIN diminutive form of an Indo-European root meaning “to cover or hide,” adopted by the German as Helm, by the Dutch as helm and Old French as helme.

RIP my bike helmet.

Helmet 1I bought this helmet at a “start of season” sale in the Hamptons in 2005. My sister and I were visiting my brother who was working there in advance of “the season” which is when all the swells and husband-hunters descend on the area from New York and its environs.

I loved it instantly because of the cool design which looked Mayan or Ancient Egyptian but was actually funky animals like octopuses, crocodiles and cats. (The design is fun because it’s a child’s helmet. Adult helmets are boring.)

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We were going to be walking around all day, so I did what I thought was the most reasonable thing: I put the helmet on my head so that I wouldn’t have to carry it. What happened was that all the shop keepers thought I was a person with special needs and everyone was incredibly nice to me and spoke to me as though I was a child. Another classic case of Americans erring on the side of caution so much that they fall off the cliff at their backs.

When I pulled the helmet out of storage recently, I noticed that the foam lining (which cushions your head from the hard shell) was crumbling and making a mess so I emailed the manufacturer to see how I could get replacements here in France. They told me they stopped making this model in 2001. Unwilling to part with one of my favorite things to look at, I dug around some and found the original packaging (always keep the instructions, the packaging and the inserts, people!) and there were spare foam parts there. Hooray!

I asked a guy I know who’s a bike expert to help me place them correctly and he asked how old the helmet was. Sensing this was going somewhere bad, I told him that I’d had it for “a while.” He asked if it felt heavy and solid and I said yes. This was the wrong answer. It turns out that after a few years, the plastic foam the helmet is made of starts to degrade and becomes unified into one piece and that you’re supposed to replace them every five years, especially if you’re riding in the city as accidents are more likely.

So, I have to say goodbye to my old friend and go shopping for a new helm for my noggin. I’ve found a promising place near République but their business hours are 10h – 18h45 (vive la France!) which means I have to wait until next Saturday to go and see what cool kids’ business they’ve got going on.

Another purging tip

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer” isn’t just some snappy thing to say to someone who stares too long. It’s also a way to “keep” something without actually keeping it. I’ll be able to remember my helmet for years to come by clicking through the pics I took and think back on the good times we shared without having to have potentially toxic fumes in my nostrils and crumbled bits of plastic all over my hands.