Friday, September 30, 2005

there are bats in the belfry

I never thought I'd have the chance to say that and mean it literally, but it's true.

I'm living in a rambling old collége, a boarding school, probably 200 years old if not more, with an 18th century Jesuit church attached. My bedroom has 20 foot ceilings and a teeny fireplace. The windows in the hallway look out over the courtyard, which the church forms one side of. I was coming back from the kitchen the other evening and heard these giant crows (or maybe ravens) making a racket as they perched on the steeple; and as I stopped to watch all these bats came flying out of the bell tower.

So now I say hi to them each evening; I was listening to Loreena McKennitt sing Yeats' "The Two Trees" and watching them dart around in the dusk while the cathedral bells were ringing and I thought, Oh yeah. This is why I came here. It's so ridiculously Romantic it kills me.

The French for bat, incidentally, is chauve-souris: a bald mouse.

I'm getting settled in; Verdun is a nice, fairly ordinary town with an understandably morbid streak. There are about five thousand monuments to the dead; but I like it; the river Meuse runs right through it and there's a pretty little park five minutes from my flat. Still wrangling with the bus schedule.

It helps that I'm living with another American, also teaching at the local schools. She's lived in England, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and just finished 2 years in Madagascar with the Peace Corps (she's only 26), so she's got this whole living abroad thing down solid. I pretty much follow her around like a puppy dog and do whatever she does. My French is better than hers, though, which keeps me from feeling like a midwestern hick. And she has two dads, so there's at least one person in France I don't have to watch my pronouns around.

I'm missing my books something awful; I bought Joanne Harris' Jigs and Reels in Heathrow and am stretching it out as much as possible. Last night I did the unthinkable and actually skipped ahead in Life Mask, just to double check that there is, in fact, actual Sapphism occuring and not just scandalous rumors of it. I never skip ahead, and Emma Donoghue is an author I trust implicitly. But I guess I was needing some reassurance or something. The Girl hasn't emailed me back yet, and I haven't found a tabac that sells La dixiéme muse (surprise); I did find Tétu, but like The Advocate, I refuse to buy it until there's a woman on the cover.

But, luckily, I've found this cheapo internet place that's full of 15 year old boys playing computer games, so I can keep up on my blog reading and email.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Dear Universe

I trust, after the events of last week, that all my karmic debts are marked as "paid in full." I fully expect to be reincarnated in my next life as a goddamn movie star. Someone along the lines of Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn would do nicely.



oh god that trip was hard. Monster-layover-in-Chicago hard. Wearing-the-same-clothes-for-three-days hard. Grand-total-of-eight-hours-fitful-sleep-by-the-time-I-arrive-at-my-flat-in-the-middle-of-the-night hard. Spent the flight to London listening to Joni Mitchell's Blue album and missing the Girl. Then promptly coming down with the mother of all chest colds, the kind where you cough so hard you pull a muscle in your neck.
Have been "experiencing culture shock" in the same way a person who's run over by a truck is "involved in an accident." Have managed to lock myself out of my apartment once (because I was so jet-lagged I didn't realize I was turning the key in the wrong direction); have nearly locked myself into the bathroom twice (who puts a deadbolt on the bathroom door??); found myself curled up on my bed sobbing "I can't do this!"; and yesterday was Watch Anne Fail to Catch the Bus Day.
Not that there weren't bright spots. Chocolate mousse Pims have been the only thing keeping me sane. On the plane to Paris I sat next to a drop-dead-gorgeous British Indian girl who literally threw her arms around me and buried her head in my shoulder because she's afraid of flying (she must have been real terrified, because I reeked by that point). Went to a movie Saturday, Ma vie en l'air, which was good, because it mostly kept my mind off the previous Saturday night that I had spent with the Girl. My contact person, an English teacher at one of the schools I'm working at, took me out to dinner with her husband and daughter. Juliette is probably no more than four and kept singing "I like to move it move it!" in adorable four year old manner. Also went to a flea market type thing in the country, very picturesque, but it convinced me that there is some universal law requiring junk sales to circulate used copies of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Not Without My Daughter. And today was a good day; nothing bad/humiliating/frustrating happened. I managed to catch the bus--twice! I was not made fun of by adolescent boys in the park (Verdun is not a college town, but there are two lycees, which means the streets are roamed by packs of feral teenagers). I met the principal of my school and got some paperwork done. Go me!

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Mary Oliver

And now, Dear Reader, I shall place my elegant Bonnet upon my gentle head and set out to seek my Fortune. I shall return, interfrastically.*

* I always wanted to say that. First person who can identify that quote, my esteem.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Mission: accomplished

Except, unlike the pResident, when I say it, it's actually true.

Last night was the most perfect night ever, excepting the night I met her. We went to the bar, had a few drinks, played some pool, danced till closing, and were definately the couple that needs to get a room. A little bittersweet too, since I'm leaving, but not in a tragic way.

I texted girl#2 but she never did show up, or at least I didn't see her, so it all worked out in the end.

But next time I won't take three weeks to work up my nerve.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

dooooooo jesus

So, remember how I said I was inexplicably dating 2 people? And by "dating" I mean "sitting around having coffee in an utterly platonic manner". Well, the Girl and I are going to the dyke bar tonight; but I just got a message from girl #2 (whom I haven't heard from in over a week) suggesting I meet her at a queer dance club tonight. The dance club that is right across the street from the dyke bar. Because in this town, all the queer places are on the same street.


I had all summer to indulge in Dyke Drama, man. Why now???

Friday, September 16, 2005

I am such a coward

I'll probably regret this post in the morning; late night blogging is never a good idea. But I went out with her tonight, without a doubt the loveliest, most beautiful person ever, and do I kiss her goodbye? No. Because I suck and do not deserve to live. Yes, that's right, four dates and we're still at the shy-nervous-glances stage. I totally despise myself.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


okay. I have a place to live (I got an email containing those magical words, "chez vous"); I have a crazy ass train ticket from Paris to Challons to Verdun (that was an adventure. I'm already annoyed with the natives and I'm not even in the damn country yet. The lady on the phone acted like I was an idiot because I didn't know that I had to take the subway from Charles de Gaul airport to the station downtown. Well excuuuuse me. Fucking Parisians.) But I'm still facing the biggest obstacle: what books do I take with me to France?
There's only one that's absolutely going with me on the plane, Life Mask. But I can't seem to stop myself from involuntarily adding more to the list, like Colette, and Sanditon by Another Lady, cause I'm gonna need some comfort food through that first month of culture shock (oooh, Byatt was really good for that, last time! damn), and then there are all my pagan books, there's no way I can ask my mom to ship them over to me (no I'm not out about all that yet. One thing at a time). And then, what if I get a hankering for some fantasy or sci-fi in the next week or so? Maybe I should take Child of the Prophecy and finish up the Sevenwaters Trilogy finally. And then there are all those French books I bought last summer and didn't read...and I've been wanting to start on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's letters forever...
It's like all 50+ of the books I own and haven't read yet are sitting there looking at me with big puppy dog eyes, saying "Don't leave me! Take me with you!"
But I know from experience that a couple of paperbacks weigh a lot more than you'd think, and there's no way I'm lugging a backpack full of books around France again.
I'm a light traveller in every respect except books (poetry!! shit!! which anthology should I take???); combined with my chronic indeciveness, it's a problem.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Ink and Incapability

Just for the record, I really really hate sitting and waiting for her to call. It sucks.

Anyway, I got my box from Amazon the other day. Finally have my very own pocket Larousse. I managed to get through seven years of French without a dictionary of my own, which should tell you something about the quality of my teachers.

Dr. Johnson: Sir! I hope you are not using the first English dictionary to look up rude words!

Edmund: I wouldn't be too hopeful. That's what all the other ones will be used for.

And that's exactly what I used mine for, without much success. Honestly, I don't know how they expect me to improve Franco-American relations if I don't know the word for "cunnilingus," for instance. 80,000 translations and they don't even give me "butch." Guess I'll just have to rely on gestures and my radiant charm. They do provide the French for "dyke", however: gouine.
Also got my Damron Women's Traveler. Slightly more helpful. If you look up a city, say, Cardiff, for example...

okay, they don't list Cardiff...

or any British city other than London...

...but they do inform you that Paris is definitely the gayest city in Europe. In case you were wondering. And I do have info on queer spaces in Berlin, Prague, and Rome, among others, in addition to all 50 states. So, good for traveling, but not much use where I'm going to be, in the vicinity of Verdun (open plea to all queer Europeans: where do queer girls in Verdun go to have fun??)
In order to get the free shipping I got a We'moon datebook as well. It's absolutely gorgeous, filled with beautiful artwork, poetry, moon phases, herbalism, all the astrological info you need. But they sent me the unbound edition. It's not so much a beautiful datebook as a beautiful collection of loose pages. I'm not sure who fucked up, me or them, but it's too late now. That's what I get for not ordering direct from the publisher.

Well, anyway, I did find the Riot Grrl Europe site, and Riot Grrl France, which rocks, it means I'll be able to get zines and cool shit while I'm there. I don't even know how to get zines here. So maybe I don't have a place to live yet, but at least I know how to find the indie punk scene. Sorta.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Sanditon and Other Stories ~ Jane Austen, ed. Peter Washington

WHEN Cassandra had attained her 16th year, she was lovely & amiable, & chancing to fall in love with an elegant Bonnet her Mother had just compleated, bespoke by the Countess of ----, she placed it on her gentle Head & walked from her Mother's shop to make her Fortune. "The Beautiful Cassandra"

Well, I've officially read all of Austen's work, and I feel a bit like the beautiful Cassadra myself, at a point in my life when I'm about to set off into the World to make my Fortune. That's the journey of all of Austen's heroines, actually. They're all challenged to find their place in the world while preserving their integrity. That's the real appeal of her novels; not the romance. The romance is fun, but it's just the structure she uses, the only one that was available to her, for her purposes. Austen explores the inner life of a young woman like no one else, and that's why her work is so much more than boy-meets-girl.

I murdered my father at a very early period of my Life, I have since murdered my Mother, and I am now going to murder my Sister. I have changed my religion so often that at present I have not an idea of any left. I have been a perjured witness in every public tryal for these past twelve Years; and I have forged my own will. In short, there is scarcely a crime that I have not committed. "A Letter from a Young Lady, whose feeling being too Strong for her Judgement, led her into the commission of Errors which her Heart disapproved. --"

The juvenilia is just crazy. It's pure wacky Monty Python-esque absurdity. She was just a teenager, but some of this stuff, like The History of England, is sheer genius. The gloves are off; in the novels her humor is snarky and biting, but here she just lets fly: Laura and Sophia taking turns fainting on a sofa in Love and Freindship, Eliza being partially eaten by her sons in Henry and Eliza, the constantly drunk Johnson family in Jack and Alice. Of the later works (The Watsons, Sanditon), I think Lady Susan retains the most of the juvenilia's exuberance.

Upon the whole, I commend my own conduct in this affair extremely, & regard it as a very happy instance of circumspection & tenderness. Some Mothers would have insisted on their daughter's accepting so good an offer on the first overture, but I could not answer it to myself to force Frederica into a marriage from which her heart revolted; & instead of adopting so harsh a measure, merely propose to make it her own choice, by rendering her thoroughly uncomfortable till she does accept him. -- But enough of this tiresome girl.

Austen just so thoroughly enjoys having a nasty, scheming vixen as her main character, it's a shame she used that device only once. It's also a shame that no one's filmed Lady Susan (it's complete, unlike the other two); I mean, do we really need Pride and Prejudice VII: Return of Collinses?
Her verse is unremarkable, but then neoclassicists pretty much killed poetry dead with their heroic couplets. The Enlightenment makes for great science and really, really bad verse (okay, I admit the technical brilliance of Pope's Essay on Criticism, but nobody reads it for pleasure, that's for sure). Washington's intro is a nice little discussion of the concept of Major/Minor writers and works, and how Austen undermines that very dichotomy.
Aw, hell, I haven't really got anything deep or meaningful to say, I'm still entrenched in the post-book downer. Might as well finish up with my favorite part, Sophia's death-bed scene in Love and Freindship:
One fatal swoon has cost me my Life... Beware of swoons, Dear Laura... A frenzy fit is not one quarter so pernicious; it is an exercise to the Body and if not too violent, is, I dare say, conducive to Health in its consequences -- Run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint --

As good advice as any.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Are we not femme?

Nothing like a little fishing for compliments to restore one's faith in blogging. Flattery will get you everywhere with me, folks. Besides, I just fixed up the sidebar, that took a while.

It's getting a little stressful round here. Between the government committing genocide by neglect in New Orleans (why New Orleans??? WHY?? Why couldn't it be some godawful place like Houston or Dallas? Or Crawford? Because nobody built them on fucking wetlands, I guess is why), the fact that I as yet have no place to live in France (I've been trying to get in touch with people but...they're French. There's only so much I can do), and have, inexplicably, been dating two people the last couple of weeks (I'm not complaining about that, by any means--it's just that clearly I seem to have been dropped into an alternate universe and I haven't got my bearings yet and I can't help wondering where the fuck they were in June)--well, I actually ended up breaking my knitting needles mid-stitch the other day, I was so tense.

I imagine I come off as wound tighter than a clock spring, which I'm not. But I should start meditating more regularly.

As a result, I decided to chop off my hair. For that sense of control, if nothing else. I seem to follow a pattern of chop it off, grow it out almost chin length, chop it off again. Butchiness gives me a sense of confidence and strength; reiterating gender stereotypes, I know, but there it is. Which is why I like to mix it up, walk around with my butch hair cut wearing a girly skirt. And I love getting my hair cut, the whole process is so soothing (unless I go to My Mother's Expensive Salon for Ladies of a Certain Age, where everyone has frosted dos and red nail polish and it's so incredibly girly I want to puke). I went down the street to Super Cheap-o Barbershop, picked out a picture of what I wanted, and showed it to the stylist, who was the second butchiest woman I have ever seen (nobody beats my old statistics professor, who also coached lacrosse). I mean this woman was a classic bulldagger, she's got the buzzcut, everything; even I knew she was gay, which is saying something, since my gaydar is completely defective.

"Are you sure you want it that short?" she asks.

"Oh sure," I said, "I've had it short before, short as yours in fact."

Either this gave me away or she's got better gaydar than I've got, because as soon as she hears I'm going to France she starts telling me about her German girlfriend. I look at her and she looks at me and we exchange knowing smiles. And she starts flirting with me. "Oooh, you look good with short hair! It's so cute on you!" I'm sitting here with a 50-something butch dyke calling me Gorgeous and singing the praises of the buzzcut. It was fantastic. I mean, this is really, really unusual for me; I live in white middle-class suburbs that have a church on every corner. In fact there's a Baptist one across the street from that shop. You don't just randomly run into other openly queer people; you might see someone pick up a copy of The Advocate at Corporate Bookstore Emporium, but you might not even make eye contact with them. It made my day; hell, it was practically the only bright spot in the week. (For the record, I didn't get a buzzcut, but it is awful short).

As I leave she says "You have fun now, Gorgeous! Whenever I hear of France I'm going to think of you!" Needless to say, I left her a big tip.

(Post title from a Butchies album).

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Mean ol' levee cause me to weep and moan

I keep thinking of Arthur Miller's preface to the 50th anniversary edition of Death of a Salesman, where he talks about our societies, "which purport to be stable and sound as mountains when in fact they are all trembling in a fast wind blowing mindlessly around the earth." Also that old blues song, "When the Levee Breaks," keeps running through my head. I've lived around levees and the threat of floods my whole life; civilization is terribly fragile thing. Everything else I want to say has already been said by Morgaine.

In other news, I leave for France in 17 days.


::hides under the bed::

And the fate of this blog hangs in the balance. I have no idea what kind of internet access I'm going to have, or if I want to have a blog over there or not. I really don't know. What do you guys think I should do?