Friday, June 27, 2008

Through the looking glass...

While eternally beautiful, France can certainly be a dangerous place sometimes. For instance, you will stroll the streets eyes looking up, down, and all around at the stunning architecture, the tree-lined streets, the monuments, the people - all the while making sure not to step on any crottes, so how on earth would you have time to notice these?

One could even be looking through one, at say a monument and not even notice it - don't you think? This very thing happened to a friend of mine recently, fresh off the Airbus from New York City; roaming the streets in utter glee busily taking in his surroundings at a mad pace and - SMACK - he walked straight into a France Telecom phone booth (quite a rarity nowadays since the advent of mobile telephones). He had actually been looking through it to see a beautiful monument just on the other side, with some sun in his eyes, and never saw what hit him. What hit him being a large, immobile phone booth completely transparent save the FT logo near the top.

In pain, feeling a welt emerging on his forehead, he managed to walk home to his host family's house. As he entered, his host father looked at him aghast as he saw the large, red welt taking over the upper half of his head. My friend, seeing the horror in the face in front of him - asked sensibly for some ice to soothe the pain. His host father responded to his request with an odd, quizzical look but turned and went away seemingly to oblige.

No less than five minutes later, the host father returned with this:

In French, the difference between ice (glacon) and an ice cream (glace) is simple and easily misspoken.

My friend had a good laugh and instead of licking his wound by putting some ice on it, he licked his vanilla ice cream cone. It did help, nonetheless.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Decadent Dictator

During a year of studies in Southern France, my American roommate and I were both picked for a three hour Modern World History class that met each Wednesday. She and I sat next to each other and for three full hours we wrote madly every single mot that we could grasp out of the air bursting at its seams with facts and figures and politics that poured out like hot lava from our Professor's mouth at TGV-like speed. We neither looked at each other during class nor breathed, I think, for the full three hours. After class, we would compare notes and try as we might to piece together the broken phrases and words and ideas to map out the history he had recounted for us. It was a difficult class and we always returned home fatigued - both mentally and physically.

One day when our professor was detailing for us the tragic events of World War II (I repeat the subject of the day was World War II), all of a sudden my roommate elbows me sharply and whispers every so quietly and ever so completely obliviously - "please for the love of dieu - tell me who is ECLAIR?". Yes, eclair like the cream-filled, chocolate-topped, calorie-ridden pastry. I looked at her, then at her note book - a notebook that was filled with sentences the likes of " ECLAIR started the war with France, ECLAIR stormed in to occupy Paris, ECLAIR sent 6 million to the camps..."

I immediately burst into a very loud laugh as I realised her faux pas : the French do not pronounce the letter H outloud.

I will let you figure out the rest.
And if you are good, someday I will tell you the story about (h)appiness.


Before anyone tells me what a clever title (anglicized take on the word bouquinist - vintage booksellers festooned along the quais of the Seine)- it is the name of a restaurant in Paris - so not my own creation by any means.


Having recently devoured these delicious novellas - both of which treat the same subject - Paris as an expat - but with hilariously different tones; the former is of a Brit turned permanent Parisienne, and the latter recounts the adjustments of a New Yorker to Paris during a temporary stay. Both are filled with humor, jabs at the French, and insights into two different reactions and vantage points of an "Anglo-Saxon" experience in Paris.

La Jolie Presse

I have the privilege of being involved with an incredible organization that was founded by one single women, a survivor of rape and war - who took those experiences and used them as undying reason and energy to start an NGO to provide (micro) financial, emotional, and educational support to women in war-torn countries - WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL.

Today, I awoke to find some quite glamorous and important news online. The sexy samaritans - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have donated money to WFWI. This is wonderful press - as whatever these two touch turns into front page news the world over.

(ASSOCIATED PRESS) - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's love for children is by no means limited to their own: The couple has donated $1 million to help kids affected by the war in Iraq, the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict announced Wednesday.
The organization will distribute the donation, made through the couple's Jolie-Pitt Foundation, to four organizations working on behalf of children who have lost parents, homes and schools in Iraq. Children in the U.S. who have lost parents in the conflict will also benefit.

"These educational support programs for children of conflict are the best way to help them heal," said Jolie in a written statement from Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, which she co-chairs.

"We hope to encourage others to give to these great organizations," Pitt added in the statement.

The money will be divided between the Armed Services YMCA Operation Hero Program, which provides military children with counseling and educational support; Women for Women International, which will provide books, school supplies and other basic necessities to Iraqi women and children; the International Rescue Committee, which will repair three schools and offer classes for more than 2,500 students; and, which will give school uniforms and learning materials to more than 2,000 displaced Iraqi kids.

If you want to learn more about Women for Women International:,9171,1736706,00.html

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ricksha Wallah

I am departing from my usual subject matter as I recently returned from a trip to India and witnessed something that was gut-wrenching.

I had visions before I had left of most of what I was to see there, in terms of living conditions of the average person. What brought me to tears and saddened me beyond belief was the following:

Chaotic, busy, horn-honking, lights, faces, shouts, smells, traffic moving at all speeds with people walking, cyclo-pousses, auto-rickshas, cars, carts, cows - anything that can move was and was darting in and out of each other's way with rapid and loud movements... moving forward in a million directions. You can see the sounds - they are so loud. The noise is as thick and pungent as smog. We were watching it all happen outside of the tunnel-vision view from our own ricksha when all of a sudden, in one single beat, traffic stopped Instead of calm and quiet inertia - this sent horns, people's voices and animals into mania - trying to see what had happened and get it out of the way. The one rule of traffic here is that it never stops.

After a few minutes (but what seemed like an eternity to people who were late getting to an airport for not one but two international flights) things dwindled down and our own cart began moving again... moving forward to allow us a view to see that some type of accident had happened - to watch clients in flourescent orange and deep blue saris getting out of a unmotorized ricksha that had fallen - shouts coming from a man on a moped who had most certainly caused this and wanted no blame or responsibility.

But as all this cleared in my vision, one sight remained - the look of the most deep despair and sadness I have ever seen as the ricksha wallah (ricksha man, or driver) picked up the broken and bent pieces of the wheels of his ricksha - he moved with a slowness that spelled out his pain and utter attempts to not accept what was happening to him; this must be the speed of sadness, of total loss - looking at what fate had just dealt him - this is most certainly his only means of a living, this means a night without pay and who knows if he has the money to pay for the reparations - but the look on his face told us he didnt and this would certainly mean future hunger or worse. No insurance, no cares from the moped driver nor the clients both fleeing the scene as quickly as possible to get to their party or take on the next client. In the chaotic, hurried scene of the streets of Varanasi - everything moved in a slow, desperate, tristesse motion for this one ricksha wallah.

I will never forget his face, nor how quickly and deeply I felt sadness for him and the unjust, unfair situation that happened in a split second.