Monday, August 30, 2004

Saturday evening (rather, Sunday morning at 3:30am), driving home from the big kick-off Welcome Week Party at Chateau Vaux-le-Penil in Melun, a chateau-mate and I were pulled over in his Porsche for my flipping the bird (double handed) and mooning the police car behind us.

But let me rewind. School has gotten off to a chugging start. Classes are in full gear (you're not allowed to drop a class after the first three sessions, and I think it's already too late for me to drop most of mine! Ugh) and my new nest is suitably IKEA-feathered and of course, the social engagement pipeline is streaming merrily with barbeques and brunches and dinners and random social visits. Of course, in between, there is the constant sleety Fontainebleau rain trying to give London a run for its money as worst weather locale in Europe.

There are also the transitions, always driving driving driving with music in these miniature cars, be it clanging techno while crammed with Frenchmen, heart-pounding dance music while joyriding after parties, or cheesy sappy heart-rending ballads that make me suddenly burst into tears on the N7 while racing into the gray on my own. Nothing like a little "I will always love you" to remind you of how to feel alone while swimming in a sea of people.

I digress. Back to being pulled over for mooning the police. By the way, the reason I had decided to pursue such actions was not simply maniacal self-destructiveness. Enrique Iglesias was being pumped at full blast, we were singing out loud, I was drunk as a wet bread crumb, and I thought we were being followed by a carload of friends who were following us home-- so you see it really was their fault for having let a police car come between us. We wobbled out of the car while muttering under our breaths--
"What, are you drunk?"
"Of course I'm drunk!"
"But I thought you were sober! That's why you're driving!"
"I am sober, but legally I'm not sober!"
"Oh dear. This is bad."
Clamber out, three very angry plainclothes policemen yelling in French.
me- "Messieurs, je suis desolée . . . je croyais que vous êtes mes amis . . . "

Eurgh. How do you apologize for something like this? In our stuttering (very stuttering) French, we affirmed that we were students, that we just came from the party at the Chateau, and that we were deeply, deeply sorry for flipping them off and giving them a view of my arse.

And then, just like that, after barking at us for the longest five minutes ever, they were gone. No breathalyzer, no ticket, just a warning. We thought an angel must be looking after us, but just so we didn't push our luck, we drove home the rest of the way at 50 kmh. Welcome back to INSEAD.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Here at school, not having a phone is the equivalence of social death. With a phone, you can call people for dinner, receive calls for dinner, call friends to see where they're sitting, call people to see if they're home, call people for a ride, call to chat and say welcome back, or at the very least, call home and be comforted by old friends. Without a phone, you have no name, no button on the register of the world. Imagine my dismay when I found my phone completely dead as I got back into France yesterday afternoon. After much excess pain and travel angst, I managed to find my way back to school, and discovered I had to attend a class in the next five minutes. I don't know about you, but after a sweaty 6-hour plane ride with a kid kicking the back of my seat every five minutes at what was the equivalent of 6:00am to my body clock, the last thing I wanted to do was learn about Private Equity. Ech. But I managed through, sitting there in the big bright front row (because of course I entered the class 10 minutes late) with no papers, no handout, not even a pen so I could pretend to take notes.

I still kept hearing jet noises flying around inside my ears, and my eyes, feeling red and wild, kept replaying that sad, tense walk down the security checkpoint aisle, looking back to say goodbye to my life in New York. After finally getting back to the Chateau and regaining possession of my dear, beat-up little Peugeot, I de-musted my rooms by throwing open the shutters and windows. The place looks like a bit of a disaster, it's true, with peeling paint and what-were-you-thinking puce(!) wallpaper and the most disgusting furniture, but it is more space than I have ever had to myself-- in fact, it is the first apartment I've ever had all to myself. Nothing a trip to IKEA can't fix. I spent all night in a storm of reorganization and cleanup, and am happy to report that while the place still looks like a disaster, the beginnings of an organizing principle for each room are visible to my eye. The worst of it, and what finally put me to a frustrated sleep in the end, was the futile search for my phone charger. It is nowhere to be found.

So what's a girl to do? She has to go into town, and purchase another. You'd think this was a easy task, taking no more than a few minutes to accomplish. Ah, but not so, because said charger is only available from the Orange Telecom office, whose line is a requisite 1-hour wait, for ANYTHING, even a pre-packaged charger. Yes folks, I got a traffic ticket while waiting for my turn at the cashier, as I discovered upon pulling out and turning on my windshield wipers (a light rain to greet me back in Fonty, how appropriate), when the ticket flew out to the wind and I had to stop the car to run out and retrieve it. Ugh. Even better? Now my phone's charged, but the service isn't working. Who knows, maybe France Telecom has some rule against having your phone turned off for two months.

So I am still a social pariah, with no way of making contact with my fellow INSEADers short of wandering around campus and peering hopefully into the cubicles. But I'm hopeful that things will look up soon. A dinner at my place tonight, though, to greet the new September inhabitants of the Chateau, followed by national dinners tomorrow. I think an Orangina will cheer me up-- who knows, maybe I'll run into someone at the bar?

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Lulu Posted by Hello

She is not a very clever cat, but what she lacked in cunning she made up for with her glamorous good looks and an innocent if indiscriminately affectionate temperament. This morning I opened my eyes to a tangle of blue cotton sheets around my legs and an otherwise empty bed. Missing her familiar soft weight in the crook of my elbow, I called out "Lulu?" even as I remembered that she doesn't live here any more, and a wooly, sodden sadness settled on my chest.

Lulu came into my life like New York City-- all of a sudden, an unplanned but unexpectedly wonderful perk. She belonged to M., the lady who owned the little apartment in the Lower East Side where I subletted for my first two months before finding a place of my own. The lady was a little bit crazy, and my room was the size of a medium closet (I had to climb a ladder to get to the bed, which spanned the room, and underneath was a tiny desk), but as soon as I walked in, I met Lulu's lovely green eyes. She fell over on her side with an expectant look of "pet me, I'm beautiful," and even friendless as I was, I knew New York had been a good idea.

After moving into my new place, a fancy doorman highrise with shiny new appliances and sparkling city lights across my wall-to-wall windows, I filled my own space with a four poster bed, peach sheets and gauzy georgette bed curtains, but the warmest featherbeds won't purr or rub noses. Luckily M. had to go on a six-month vacation to Iran, and she let me take care of Lulu. So what if the boyfriend of the moment was allergic to cats? He was out the door, and Lulu was in. Six months turned into a year, into two, and no word from M. outside of a few fitful communications that seemed tentative and unwilling at both ends. She seemed unwilling because she was always traveling. I was unwilling because I couldn't bear to let Lulu go.

Coming home from work, feeling like a wrung out rag at 2, 3, or 4 am, all my friends would be asleep, but Lulu was always there at the door, ready with her little white paw and her little pink nose to hang out with me while I brushed my teeth and rambled about my day (to a cat, yes, I know, to a cat). Weekends were the best, because I could sleep all day, until the sun slanted in and made me fling off the sheets, and Lulu would open one sleepy eye as if to say, "stop flailing, girl, I'm still napping." She liked to burrow under my covers with her head. When I would finally get up (well past noon, sometimes as late as 4 or 5pm), we would both pad into the kitchen, looking for food, finding none, and eventually ordering sushi for two(Lulu was one spoiled cat).

She followed me from midtown highrise to Chelsea walk-up as I moved around NYC, but she couldn't follow me to France, because I was moving into a house with some allergic housemates. After some shuffling about, Lulu came to reside in Times Square with the Boyfriend, in his itty bitty apartment with its zebra-print carpet, guitars on the wall, and red couch. Is it in the nature of princesses to assume that their presence is always desired? Maybe somewhere deep down Lulu and I knew that he was doing us a favor by letting her stay, but the way she would loll on the couch and langorously knead her claws in his thighs, you'd have thought that he ought to be thanking her for the privilege of having her in his lap.

But that brings us to yesterday, and goodbye. After all, while you can wheedle a boyfriend into taking care of your cat while you are off doing your MBA in France, asking an ex-boyfriend to do so is stretching the limits, even for a princess like Lulu. The contingency plan until recently was to carry Lulu all the way to Fontainebleau, but to my dismay France changed its animal import laws just last month such that you have to wait at least three months between examination/vaccination and actual transport. Lulu deserves better than to be shunted off to friends who don't love her with all their heart, and I knew there weren't many alternatives. Breaking up is hard to do, as the song goes. Yesterday I looked up M. on Google, and found that she was back in New York. I called the number of the newsletter in Brooklyn that listed her as a part-time contributer, and lo and behold, there she was at my door an hour later, and Lulu was in her carrier, mewing her head off (she only mews when she's scared, which is usually when she has to travel). "Bye bye baby, don't be scared," I told her, "I'll come visit, I love you!" before the yellow cab roared off across town.

So that's it then, every last loose end has been tied up into my patchwork net, ready lift up, up and away from New York City, back to France and into the rest of my life. Lulu, you will always be the best cat in the world, and I will visit when I'm back in NYC. Is it sick to name your firstborn after a pet? Because if I ever have a girl, I might just name her Lulu. I'll never forget you. We've come full circle, baby-- you've gone to your new home, and I'm leaving to find mine. Bon voyage darling, je t'aime!

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Am dressed in red, and ready to go out for a night of Salsa with my girls . . .

My two best friends came to visit me in California, and after a few days of stuffing ourselves with my mother's food, we roadtripped up the Northwestern seaboard to visit a college friend in Seattle. Along the way, we stopped by for Henry VI at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and stocked up on supplies of CDs and reading material at Walmart. I bought Beatles, Beach Boys, and BonJovi. We also bought an *ahem* harlequin paperback entitled "Hot and Bothered" and took turns reading it out loud as we cruised the mountains of Oregon and Washington. While it was no Shakespeare, we didn't mind because we'd gotten all the culture-mongering out of our system back in Ashland. Amazing how a ridiculously cheesy sex scene can melt the miles away. I provided sound effects whenever the words "muttered, murmurred, sighed, moaned, or gasped" were mentioned (about twice a page, average).

Why can't life be one long road trip where you get to trap all the people you love in the car with you, and nobody's allowed to go home or back to work? But I suppose if we all traveled the same road, nobody would get to discover all those little side paths that you have to find alone. I seem always to be stuck missing the last thing I knew for sure.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Paradise on earth

Every time I come home I wonder why I ever left. In my own little twin bed I sink myself down beneath the layers of sheet, comforter and duvet until only my nose is sticking out, quivering with the cool fresh dewy smell of Palo Alto-- homegrown tomato vines outside my open windows, fragrant flowering trees in the neighbor's yard, light dust on the windowsill and the imprint of recent sunshine. I know my overstimulated, overtraveled and overworldly brain will rapidly feel smothered by the ease and simplicity of daily routine here, a pattern so enforced by habit that I can't see the road for the grooves any more. Every road-bend and stopsign, every gray squirrel clambering on our garden fence and every aisle at the public library where I spent my nerdy childhood is as strangely familiar as grade-school and grocery-shopping. There is never any humidity here, and the constant airy sunshine sparkles with pink and yellow hexagons, forcing my mental fingers to rub, startled, at the unearthed remains of my innocence and childish imagination. Remember, I ask myself, when your whole life was just a dream built of images from musty books, cheesy sitcoms and glossy brochures? There is something very peaceful and safe about lying here with my feet hanging off the edges if I do not pull myslf up against the headboard, exactly two minutes before I am lulled asleep to a hint of crickets behind the noiseless hum of sleeping suburbia.