Sunday, November 28, 2004

Premier jour au stage

My first (real) day of my internship was pretty good. 

I was supposed to be there for the daily 9:15 a.m. meeting, but as I haven't woken up in the 7 o'clock hour in quite some time, getting out of the house took longer than I thought it would. I was there by 9:18, and then realized I had no idea where the meeting would be within the six-story building. When I finally got there, no one seemed too concerned that I was late, as I had expected. I've learned that people in this country just don't get all that worked up about that sort of stuff. Whenever you get here is fine... whatever...

The meeting was an hour-long and I understood about 50%... maybe less. I was trying to pay attention, stay awake and look professional all at once and I discovered I could only do one of those things at once. Afterwards, I followed my editor back to his office. There, I read the day's paper and tried to pay attention to all the things going on. See, I'm in "observer" mode right now, which means they have no idea what to do with me, so I just hang around until something interesting falls out of the sky.

Around noon, something does. A journalist is going out to meet a specialist in child sex abuse who's just arrived in town from Paris for a debate. I go with her and hang in the shadows as she conducts an interview in the middle of Part Dieu, a huge train station. What I could both hear and understand was quite interesting, but the interview was quickly over and I returned to the office with still nothing to do. 

They sent me home for a four-hour lunch break and then I came back to follow the same journalist. But at 4 p.m. there's another daily meeting where editors sit around and go: "Seriously guys, what are we putting in the paper tomorrow?" so I sit in on that and experienced my most embarrassing moment of the day. Halfway through, the editor-in-chief comes in. There are no more chairs and as I'm only an intern and he's the most powerful man at the paper, I get up and offer him my chair. He gives me the most incredulous look and says "That'll be the day, when I take a chair from a young woman." He looked half-insulted. But the news editor just said "oh, she's American, that's why" and he calmed down.

The journalist whom I'm supposed to accompany never shows, so I find someone whom I suppose is the most annoying man in the pressroom. I loved him. I say he's the most annoying man in the pressroom because all he does is talk a lot about a lot of things and works very slowly. For everyone else this totally sucks. But for me, it was great because he explained all kinds of stuff that everyone else is too busy to explain. I'll have to remember that after I get up to speed and he becomes annoying to me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Get me out of this host family

I can't wait to get out of here. 
By next Wednesday, the 1st, I'll be buying my own food (for much cheaper) and won't have to come home to an uncomfortable situation every day. Here's a run down of the latest events:
My host dad left for a two-week business trip to Mali, which I thought would be cool because I wouldn't have to feel stressed out everytime I saw him. It was cool, for about six hours. He left Saturday morning and my 18 y.o. host brother threw a huge party Saturday night — understandable. The next day, he doesn't clean up. The next day he doesn't clean up. He doesn't lift a goddamn finger until Wednesday when he finally wakes up around 2 p.m. I can't handle anymore the cups filled with alcoholic beverages on every flat surface and I yell at him to clean up.
This Saturday, the grandparents came to take care of the two daughters who come every other week. I thought they would be nicer, since grandparents, as my friend said, "usually don't care whose child you are."
I come home Saturday from a wine festival in the Beaujolais region (I was sick so I didn't partake much). I had left a note welcoming the grandparents, letting them know I would be home in time for dinner and left my number so they could contact me. When I greet them, they are rather cold, but I stick around downstairs to be sociable. After a while and no one's talking to me, I go up to my room to hang laundry to dry. My host brother comes in to my room and says "We're leaving. You're going to be alone tonight." I go, "umm.. okay." He said, "no, that's a question. Are you going to be alone tonight? Are you planning on inviting anybody over?" "No..," I said. "Okay, well we're going to dinner," he said. Thinking maybe I didn't understand I said, "oh well I can come." "No," he replies, "it's a family dinner. Have a good evening." Then they leave me all alone in the house. Screw that. I went to my boyfriend's place and stayed the night. But I still did leave a note saying when I'd be back.

The one good thing about the grandparents being here though is that they (probably just the grandmother) have cleaned almost everything and the house seems like a real home now. Not like a bachelor pad with a putrid fridge, no toilet paper, and nothing to eat but ham sandwiches.

************

I start my internship finally today. I have no real idea what I'll be doing, but I'm in the Features department, so that should be interesting. The way the French view internships though is much different than Americans. Firstly, they keep telling me how weird it is that I want to be there for six months. Apparently, two weeks or one month is about the average stay for French students. Next, they keep asking me what I want to do and what I'd like to get out of this, as if they're a school and it's their responsibility to make sure I learn and experience everything I'd like to. American interns are lucky if they experience stuff as they deliver coffee to the professionals who are actually doing something.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Mmm French food

It's turned winter here and I suddenly feel thrown into a Dicken's novel, especially walking through Vieux Lyon (Old Town), with its cobblestone streets and street-side crêpe and hot wine vendors. It's beautiful here too. As an Oregonian, I never see the sun during the months from October to May, but here, even though it's very cold, the sunlight hits the neighborhood of Croix Rousse on the hill and brings out the beautiful orange and cream buildings against the bright blue sky.

The last two weeks, there were two national holidays that happened to fall on one of the only three days I have classes, so I had two two-day weeks in a row. I know: rough. But I wish I would've figured that out before and planned a trip somewhere. Somehow the days flew by anyway and I found myself Monday morning having not done any homework and feeling exhausted.

Yesterday morning I had another meeting with the people at Le Progrès to figure out what exactly I'm doing for my internship. I'm getting the impression now that the Big Boss said "yes" to me so now all the peons have to figure out how it'll work and don't really feel motivated to do it. But we finally have a contract from November to June, so at the least, I'll have a little piece of paper to say I had an internship even if, in reality, I never do anything.

Okay, but what I really wanted to talk about in this entry is....

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Food.

I've tasted so many strange and interesting things here and I've decided to devote this entry to the things I will miss and the things I will try to bring with me upon my return.

#1. has to be Kebabs. First, put all images of shish-kebabs out of your mind. Then imagine a warm thick pita bread with hot flakes of seasoned lamb that's just been carved off a rotating roast. Add lettuce and tomato if you want (I don't). Sauce (herb-mayonnaise called Tartar is my favorite). If you're feeling rich add fries (put in the kebab usually, not on the side) and/or a coke for 50 cents each. 
I can't even stand the mention of a kebab without generating a massive craving. And it doesn't help that there are easily a dozen places to get one within a kilometer of my house. Literally.

#2. Cheese. Comté from a specific booth in the open air market on the bank of the Saône is my absolute favorite and a good chèvre comes a close second.

#3. Fromage Blanc. Okay. There's no way I can describe this to someone who hasn't tried it in a way that sounds appealing, so you're just going to have to trust that it's good. Fromage Blanc is kinda like sour cream but not as sour nor thick and comes in a big tub that proudly annouces that it is either 20 or 40 percent fat, depending on which one you buy. Slop it in a bowl, add sugar or salt to taste and eat.

#4. Semoule. My African friends introduced me to this dish and as it's cheap as dirt, I'm all about it. Boil a few cups of water, add a few cups of semolina (yellowish processed wheat that spagetti's made from) and what I think is potato starch while stirring until firm and elastic. Eat. You know that stuff you see poor Africans eating with their hands on TV? It's that. But it's not that bad as a side dish.

#5. Anything made by LU. LU is a cookie company, but oh so much more. My favorite are PIM'S: a thin, soft sponge cake cookie with either marmalade, raspberry jam or coconut mousse and then a sheild of dark chocolate on top.

#6. Pizza. Even Domino's and frozen grocery store-brand pizza rocks the world of any pizza I've tasted in America. It's gotta be the cheese, but it just tastes so gourmet. 

There's others, but I can't think of them at the moment. More to follow.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Ah... so Bush won...

Ah... so Bush won....

The French reaction, that I saw here, wasn't so much anger as smacking their heads, asking why, sighing, and then saying, "well, here we go for another four years..." The French just don't understand how someone they see as so, seeming to them, unfit for the job could be reelected. On election day, I watched a documentary of a side-by-side contrast of the histories of John Kerry and George Bush, i.e. 'while Bush was dropping out of Harvard, Kerry was running for his first political office,' etc. They just don't have the long-lived and well-loved image of John Wayne to add that special something Americans see in the way Bush goes after the bad guys and flashes the camera that lovable smile.

But that's, of course, all supposition, since personally, I have no idea what Americans see in Bush either. The reason I heard most often for voting for Bush, and the one that pissed me off the most, was: "I don't agree with everything Bush does, but that Kerry flip-flops all the time." As a Public Relations major, I know and can understand how people just sit around in a room, with all their education of how to manipulate people's opinions, and come up with something totally insubstantial like that. But that people repeat it, as if it makes any sense and is a viable reason not to vote for Kerry just drives me nuts. Of course with 20 years of governmental positions he's going to change over time. Worse is when someone knows something they did is wrong, or will not work in every situation, but continues to do it anyway. Human beings were born to learn and adapt. That is our, perhaps only, strength.

**************

I watched a news program here the day of the elections, kind of like The Jim Laher Hour on PBS. The topic was "The longest day." Questions included: "One has the impression that Bush is for the layperson and Kerry is more cultured and refined. Is that true?," "Why don't the Americans vote for their president directly?" (a question that perennially confounds the French), "Can Electors in the Electoral College be bought?" (an interesting question that illuminates a concern that Americans don't think about. Techinically the president isn't voted for until Dec. 6th when Electors gather in state capitals to vote. What would happen if suddenly a few, but substantial enough number, switched sides?), and "What happens if there's a tie?" (Statistically highly unlikely, but it would go to the House to decide. Did you hear that Supreme Court?)

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Another common theme I found in the press here was how much the rest of the world dislikes Bush. The French press report often that almost all country leaders, except Vladamir Putin (Russia) and a few others, detest Bush. If I may dare to translate an article from Le Monde (perhaps the premier French newspaper) on 2 Nov. 2004:

"The image of the US is very degraded in Europe and in Arabic and Muslim countries:
Never has the issue of an American presidential election been awaited with so much impatience by the world, and never have we ever wished so much that the voters will 'oust the outgoing" from the White House. George Bush acheived, as far as his impopularity outside the States, a ranking unequaled in the history of the United States.
This popular disavowal is confirmed, except in a few very rare countries, by all the surveys. It is essentially linked to the war in Iraq and it's subsequent downfall."
**************

Republicans have a lot of political capital now, even putting aside the Presidency. They picked up 5 seats in Congress and about four Supreme Court Justices will come up for appointment during W.'s term. That combined with what Republican lawmakers see as a mandate from the American people is going to mean some deep-digging, long-lasting repercussions. Someone told me, "Yeah, we'll see how much they get done. The Democrats used to have that much power and they didn't do much." 
Unfortunately, the Democrats aren't as coordinated as Republicans. When the world can be seen in black and white, good and evil, goals are simpler and clearer. But when you get a bunch of liberals together, they say, "yeah, but, what about the environmental repercussions? what about the labor market? what about..." and nothing gets done. There are useful aspects to both approaches, but neither works incredibly well on its own.

*******************

I heard a rumor that when asked if he was going to reach across party lines, Bush replied, "I'll reach out to people who see things my way." I'm not sure if that's what he really said or not, but given the last four years, I'd say it's pretty accurate anyway. 
However, obviously the American people want what Republicans promise, so it's only fair that they get it. But too much of what Republicans promise could, I believe very seriously, mean the downfall of America as the world's superpower. There isn't a single policy of W.'s I can think of that is sustainable.

Monday, November 01, 2004

And now, a note on the elections

There's a show here called "Les Guignols de l'Info," which is like a cross between The Daily Show and SNL's news skit, but with puppets. Puppets deliver the news with a humorous spin, with skits of Chirac and Bush puppets, etc. 

Yesterday on the Guignols, the newscaster puppet interviewed a puppet of a Florida election official who was sporting a Vote Bush pin. The newscaster asked why nothing had really been done in four years to avoid voting problems. The election official replied simply that he was impartial and therefore couldn't intervene in the electoral process. 

But, asked the newscaster, while promoting democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, why isn't the greatest democracy in the world concerned about electoral fraud? 

Nothing to worry about, replied the election official. 

Why isn't there anything to worry about? Who's going to win the presidency?

Oh, well I can already tell you that, said the official. Bush.

But how do you know that? You haven't even counted the ballots.

I'm impartial. It's not really any of my business to interfere with the ballots like that.

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As you may or may not have heard, www.georgebush.com is not available to offshore surfers. That is to say, no one outside of the United States is allowed to view the contents of George W. Bush's election campaign site. A friend of mine said that wasn't that surprising because copyright concerns sometimes shut down websites to areas outside their jurisdiction. Then when I showed that www.johnkerry.com works perfectly, he said "no, that is really weird."

**************

Despite that setback, I'm glad I'm not in the States during this tumult. I've heard some crazy stories about violence between supporters of Kerry and Bush. From fistfights breaking out at Ferry Street bridge to swastikas burned into the grass of a Bush supporter's house and Kerry signs destroyed in Rhode Island. People are thinking it's the end of the world if the other side wins.
Watching the world from this perspective, however, it's hard to overestimate the significance of this election. Everyone is talking about it. I always knew my home country was important in the world but I never fully realized how much everyone is aware of what's going on in the U.S. The other day I gave a presentation on the Electoral College in my French class because the students, who come from a dozen different countries, were really interested in how exactly the president of America gets elected. Television here is flooded with news on the American elections and everyone is tensed for another 2000.


*************

Last night I had a dinner party at my house. Two Gabonese, two Americans and a Frenchman all discussing the intracacies of the electoral process. I learned a new French expression: "The problem with the United States is..." It's such an integral part of the French language it doesn't really matter if you've never been to America or if you don't have any reason to know anything about America. It's just a national pasttime to figure out what exactly it is that's wrong with America. Because clearly, there is something wrong. It's just that no one can figure out what it is precisely, because it seems to be working so well...

During the conversation, I couldn't help but think, not only how I would never get in a conversation about the intracacies of any other country's voting process back home, but that except for maybe France, the same group of people wouldn't be able to talk about any other country of which they had a common knowledge. U.S.A. and English is the common denominator in just about any international group of people. I understand that now more than ever. There's amazing power in that.

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