Slow down, you’re moving too fast

Travel so often comes with self-imposed obligations. You’re in Paris: better brave the crowds and get that selfie with the Mona Lisa. Dodge the sidewalk hucksters and go up the Tower. Shop–or at least window shop–the Champs-Elysée… even though it’s the last place you’d ever really shop. Check off another cathedral. Another museum. Another Very Important Sight.

 

And it’s true: it’s a shame to travel and not make the most of your time. But there’s something nice about taking it easy for a change. Not giving into the you-better-see-that-important-museum pressure. Case in point: we’re in Nice, wrapping up the girls’ spring break. Yesterday we knocked out a few stops on the tourist checklist by taking in the Principality of Monaco. We watched the changing of the guard (not exactly a thrill-fest, and nothing I’d go out of my way for, but we were in the right place at the right time, so what the heck), toured the cathedral where Princess Grace is buried, enjoyed the engaging aquarium, took a bateau bus across the harbor to the Monte-Carlo side of things with its famous casino, and ended the day by touring a lovely little hill town called Eze–which is a site in and of itself.

But today? No agenda, no firm plans. Take a walk along the beach. Walk back. Eat lunch on the beach. Take a nap. Sit on our tiny deck and watch people go by. Drink another coffee.

What’s next? We could go see the Chagall Museum… Rick Steves gives it his top rating…. I even like Chagall…

Yeah, let’s go find some some gelato instead. The museum will be here next time.

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Looking down on the harbor in Monaco. A few nice boats down there.

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The nail-biting drama that is the changing of the guard.

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The final resting places of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace.

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A lovely lane in Eze.

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The golden hour in Nice.

 

Lights, camera…

The great thing about cinema in Paris? Loads of movies in English. All the recent big hits, including things you can’t see in America yet—at least for a few more days—like Captain America: Civil War (go see it when it comes out in the States; it’s not Citizen Kane, but it’s fun).

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Yeah, it opened April 27 in France. Go to Marvel.com for all your Captain America needs.

We even saw the recent Star Wars before it opened in the U.S. I was on my way to the market in the afternoon on opening day, noticed that the theater around the corner from our apartment was showing The Force Awakens in English, jumped in line behind just one person, snapped up some tickets, went shopping, got home, and told the kids to bang out their homework ’cause we had plans!

And that’s not all. A few months ago I took in Blade Runner—a pristine digital showing in a packed theater—and before that, Soylent Green (it was a bad print, probably from the original showing in 1973, full of scratches, skips, and moments when the sound dropped out, but hey, it was Chuck Heston on the big screen, and I’d never seen it before).

Plenty of revivals are on tap every week in Paris. Years ago I saw Vertigo on one of my visits. This week you can see An Affair to Remember, Chinatown, Forrest Gump, Full Metal Jacket, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Exorcist, and a few dozen more, including Purple Rain. At last count, in addition to the current crop of Hollywood fare, 46 different movies in English made before 2015 were showing in Paris!

Surprisingly, in this expensive city, cinema is generally a good value. Adult tickets are about the same price as back home, and they offer both student and children’s discounts, so we end up doing better than in Seattle. We’ve even been able to use discount promotions on major blockbusters during opening week; seems like in the States, passes or discounts are never valid for any movie you actually want to see.

The bummer of cinema in Paris? Continue reading

In case you were wondering…

What’s the most popular post so far here at A Year with Mona? I know you’ve been dying to know. Well, here’s a roundup of the top five.

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Far and away the most popular (and most shared on Facebook) is “Mugging on the Metro“–the story of the time I saw a guy snatch a woman’s cell phone right out of her hands and flee the scene.

A distant second is “This is the end…” An account of my progress with writing the end of my novel and how to make endings work in general. This one’s a bit of surprise, really: after a handful of reads when I wrote it last December, now this post, far more than any other, gets consistently read (or at least opened). Almost every day, people search for “the end,” and end up here.

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Lost in translation

Prague.

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It’s spring break, so that means getting out of Paris for a few days. I pretend to be a local in France, although my accent and my minuscule vocabulary quickly give me away. In the Czech Republic I’m a tourist all the way, Rick Steves guidebook and all. In France I do my best to decipher the French menu; in Prague I don’t even try. But spending a few days here has confirmed it: I have made progress in learning French. Because Czech looks uttery foreign and, for the most part, impenetrable, while many things I see in French I can at least get the gist of.

Our first day here, we were faced with this menu item:

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What could it be? The translation was on the next page:

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I don’t think that means what they think it means!

If you’ve ever traveled overseas at all, you’ve probably seen other, even worse translation gaffes. I joke that I could make a full time job out of fixing faulty translations in shops and restaurants. But the more I struggle to learn French, the more sympathy I have for everyone else navigating two (or three or even more) languages. And I’m appreciating more and more what a privilege it is to speak English. Not much here is translated into French. Or Italian. Or Spanish. Back in Paris, nothing is translated into Czech. English trumps them all.

Language: A rich and varied garden of words, idioms, and expressions. Meanings and connotations and shades of nuance branching out from roots that reach down through history and culture. I gripe about pronunciation conundrums in French, but imagine what it must be like for English learners to keep the pronunciation of these words straight:

Through. Though. Thought. Trough. Rough. Drought. Bough.

Or these:

Look. Loop. Book. Toot. Soot.

We have plenty of irregular verbs to keep things interesting:

Buy. Bought. Go. Went. Gone.

And then there are phrasal verbs. You learn the verb “to throw,” but good luck with throw out, throw down, and throw up. Or put down, put up, put in, and put out. Sometimes I’m amazed people of different languages can communicate with each other at all!

Our first night here in Prague, we went out to dinner with my friend Max, who has lived here since September. He took us to a nice place on an island in the river across from the National Theater. I skipped the grilled pork chop with flab and went for the duck leg with spätzle, including some bits of bacon encased in spätzle! After our tasty meal, our friendly, patient, and most helpful waitress pulled Max aside to apologize for her poor English. Poor English? Are you kidding me? She spoke perfectly fine for communicating with tourists trying to order dinner. I could tell her command of English was miles better than my French, and likely better than Max’s Czech.

Max wasn’t surprised, saying such humility was common here. Well, I’ll tell you this: no waiter in France has ever made such an apology to me for their English. They’re too busy correcting my French.

Napoleon and The Thinker

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In the foreground: Rodin’s unnamed Thinker. In the background, the dome of Les Invalides,  where Napoleon lies interred in his multiple coffins.

While the ravenously ambitious Napoleon conquered nations, strode across history like a colossus (although he was only about 5’5″) and ultimately died in exile, the Thinker seems to be frozen in perpetual contemplation of the enigma of his own existence.

What are you thinking about?

Three Kinds of Writing Books Every Writer Should Read, Part 3

The final installment in my series about the essential kinds of writing books for writers.

The Caffeinated Writer

Part 3: The Life of Writing

The life of writing isn’t like a job where you clock in and clock out. Sure, if you’re a journalist, but not if you’re writing fiction. If a day goes by and you don’t write a single word, there’s no one to dock your pay.

So now, the final book you need in your regular reading diet as a writer: something about actually living the writing life. Because, guess what? Just focusing on the writing itself isn’t enough. Unless your goal is to finish your novel and stick it in a drawer. Or if you don’t actually care about finishing. Or if you just want to dabble, if writing is just a hobby. But if you want to get your writing out into the world and reach readers, you’ll need to do more. And you’ll need a guide. In The Art of War for…

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Embassy runaround

Leave it to the U.S. government.

I need to get a document notarized, which means a trip to the U.S. Embassy—for the second time. (Pro tip for living overseas: don’t get involved in property transactions back in your home country. Everything that is already cumbersome enough on your home soil is made harder when you’re half a world away.)

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The 1/4 size Statue of Liberty near the Pont de Grenelle on the Île aux Cygnes (Island of the Swans), a narrow man-made island in the Seine with a lovely walkway running the length of it. Unless you have to go the embassy, go here instead.

So, I need to sign up for an appointment, which means using their online appointment registration website. Which is full of advisories and caveats and warnings in microscopic legalese. But I’ve done it before. So I cruise through the links, get to the right page and start inputing my personal information with the check boxes and dropdown menus. I think I was putting in my email address when the form autofilled (because my computer remembers my email) and I hit return. But it didn’t just complete the field, it submitted the form, even though I hadn’t finished filling it out.

Now, in any rational world, the system would kick me back and make me put in the missing information. But this isn’t the rational world, this is the government. It takes me to the final page, the “you’re done” page. But I knew I wasn’t, so I click the back button on the form (which is tiny, of course), and am taken to where I left off.

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“I live in Paris. And I’m miserable.”

First off, this isn’t my story; I’m happy to be here.

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Yes, there have been frustrations and difficulties, days when I wish I was back home, plenty of occasions when I wish the world around me worked in English. Not understanding clerks and waiters and signs and paperwork gets tiring. Unknowingly misunderstanding them is even worse. I miss real Mexican food. Deep dish pizza. Baseball. Mt. Rainier. My cat. And more than any of that—I miss friends and family, people who know more of my story than just what we’ve been able to talk about in the past few months.

But that’s all a caveat to what struck me once again today: some people like me here in Paris are truly, deeply unhappy about it. It doesn’t matter that the Eiffel Tower is right there, you get used to it. Or how beautiful the streets are—you don’t notice the lovely architecture anyway, because, you know, the dog poop minefield. Or how good the baguettes and croissants and pastries and crêpes are, you just want an actual basket of chips and salsa to come with those ten euro tacos. And for some it goes way deeper than any of that–it’s a deep malaise of the soul.

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